Drive For Netting Continues Across Baseball

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- In 2015, Major League Baseball issued a recommendation to its clubs about improving fan safety. Specifically, MLB asked that all clubs strongly consider installing netting that would protect fans sitting within a 70-foot radius of home plate.

The issue remained mostly dormant until September, when a young fan at Yankee Stadium was severely injured by a foul ball. Todd Frazier, who hit the ball, called for more protective measures.

Frazier's words echoed those of Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis a year prior, who implored MLB to mandate enhanced netting.

"It's 2016 and fans keep getting hit by foul balls, when you're supposed to have a net to protect the fans," Galvis told reporters at the time. "The fans give you the money, so you should protect them, right?"

Nearly two years later, there's still no mandate, but more and more teams are moving to extend their netting to, in most cases, the farthest ends of the dugouts. One club, the low Class A Dayton Dragons, went even further and made sure their nets covered the entirety of the area up the lines.

"I think safety has become a concern for people sitting past the main backstop," said Eli Rowe, a product manager with Netting Professionals, which recently performed extensions at the Mets' Citi Field and at North Carolina State. "Generally, once one team does it, everybody else kind of has to follow suit, because they don't want to get in a situation where, once somebody gets hit, they can say, 'Well, look over at this park, they have (netting) and you don't. Why?' "

Rowe estimates that Netting Professionals has already done between 10-12 installations at parks this offseason and has given price quotes to roughly 20 more teams.

As with any move involving netting, a vocal minority of fans claim it would obstruct their view of the game.

The key word here is "minority."

Baseball America, with the help of the Seton Hall Sports Poll, recently conducted a "State of the Game" survey, which revealed that roughly 1 percent of fans would be less likely to attend a game if netting were installed in front of their seating area.

The majority of nets installed at major and minor league parks around the country are made from a substance called Dyneema, which comes in varying gradations to adjust the diameter of the links in the netting as well as the toughness of the fabric.

Teams want tougher, more taut netting behind home plate, where foul balls are plentiful and are coming at the highest velocities. They'll typically go with a version with slightly more give down the lines, which allows for thinner fabric and more visibility.

So what's the next frontier in the netting world? Some talk focused on the possibility of finding a clear substance to use instead of the black netting typically in use, but it doesn't look like that's in the cards.

The NHL uses clear nets, made of the same monofilament used in fishing lines, but it would be an ineffective product in baseball. That's because the clear nets typically don't take to sun very well and produce a decent amount of glare.
With that out of play, the only real answer, it seems, is to advance the technology to the point where the netting can get even smaller while still maintaining their integrity.

"They're always trying to make the twine (stronger)," Rod Thompson of West Coast Netting said. "It used to be nylon, and then it was polyester, and then it was polyethylene. Twenty years ago, I thought I could say, 'It's not going to change,' but it does. Innovation is so incredible."

As the nets become even less obtrusive, more and more are likely to go up across baseball. The tide is turning that way, and it doesn't look like it will stop any time soon.

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