White Sox
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

July 22, 2019. Mark that date down as the day that a Major League Baseball team took a crucial safety issue seriously.

Kelly's Comments

Much to the dismay of former middle school benchwarmers still waiting to catch their first foul ball, the Chicago White Sox became the first team in Major League Baseball to install protective netting from foul pole to foul pole.

Similarly, the Washington Nationals installed protective netting almost all the way to each foul pole.

It is about damn time. I find it absolutely astounding that Major League Baseball hasn’t made protective netting to this extent a requirement for all stadiums.

Obviously, this is a huge step forward regarding fan safety. One of the most encouraging factors is the fact that teams are taking it upon themselves to extend the netting well beyond the minimum requirement.

Even more astounding, however, is the fact that people have fought back on addressing this safety concern. Dumb Twitter people have been crying out “pay attention when you’re sitting there” or “it takes away from the experience” in a weak attempt to protest an increase in fan safety.

The “pay attention” argument is my favorite of the entire debate. Do you know how long baseball games take? Three to four hours. You’re really going to argue that when you go to a baseball game you’re locked into every single pitch? No turning your head towards the aisle to get the hot dog vendor’s attention? No looking down at your phone to see if that girl texted you back yet, even though she ghosted you six days ago? I think not.

Then exists the “you’re going to ruin the view of the field” point of concern. As someone lucky enough to say that I once sat close enough to be behind netting, I can tell you from first-hand experience that it doesn’t change anything in the slightest. The cool thing about the netting is that most of the surface area is just open space. You can see right through it. It doesn’t change a single thing. I argue that it’s even easier to see a field through the netting than an ice rink through the glass.

So, toss this argument in the dumpster too.

Baseball is America’s pastime because it’s the perfect sport to go to with friends and family. It doesn’t require an intense focus from the first pitch to the last out. You can have conversations while the eight-hole hitter is grinding back from a 1-2 count. You can turn up the aisle to sneak to the bathroom earlier than the masses with two outs.

Baseball is a social sport. All adding more protective netting does is ensure that people can enjoy their time at the park without worrying that they could take a foul ball with 110 mph exit velocity to the side of the head.

The one valid concern of the “anti-netters” (note to self: throw a trademark on that one) is that the extended netting limits player-fan interaction. I’ll concede that this is a valid concern. Part of what makes kids fall in love with the game is getting a high-five or an autograph from their favorite player.

But there are ways to work around that concern. The first that comes to my mind is simply making the netting retractable. Kids will still get the chance to meet their heroes in pregame and they’ll still be protected during the game.

Another solution would be increased fan availability from the players. An inconvenience? Possibly. But I’d bet the house on the fact that every player in the league would rather meet more fans before and after the game than ever have to go through something like this…

Look at how these professional baseball players are shaken to their core by the fact that a ball squared up a fraction of a second too early or too late injured a child. Listen to them tell anybody that will listen that the netting should be extended so they never have to deal with that feeling again and nobody gets seriously injured. Then come back and tell me that it’s more important that you have a better chance of catching a foul ball.

Foul pole to foul pole netting should be instituted league-wide as soon as possible.


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