MLB Commissioner Asks All Teams To Extend Safety Nets

Following a high-profile lawsuit alleging that Major League Baseball and team owners had been putting fans at risk by not extending safety net coverage all the way from home plate to the foul poles, the league’s commissioner is now calling on all 30 teams to increase the netting, but nowhere near as far as the foul poles.

Commissioner Rob Manfred isn’t ordering the teams to do so, but it “recommending” that they figure out a way to make their stadia safer for fans without getting rid of the interactive and fun aspect of seeing a game played live. That primarily means additional netting beyond the existing backstop.

The recommendation “encourages” the teams to install netting (or something similarly effective) so that it protects field-level fans along the first- and third-base lines from “line-drive” foul balls. That would seem to indicate that the nets don’t would could still be allowed to permit fly ball and popup foul balls that are less likely to do damage.

The Commissioner’s Office says it has retained a consultant specializing in stadium architecture and protective netting to assist interested Clubs in implementing this recommendation.

Manfred is also calling on clubs to do more to educate fans about the potential hazards, beyond the standard pre-game announcements and back-of-ticket fine print that most teams rely on now. This would include figuring out a way for teams to identify to ticket-buyers which seats are protected by the extended netting.

“Major League Baseball prides itself on providing fans in our ballparks with unparalleled proximity and access to our players and the game taking place on the field,” says the Commish. “At the same time, it is important that fans have the option to sit behind protective netting or in other areas of the ballpark where foul balls and bats are less likely to enter. This recommendation attempts to balance the need for an adequate number of seating options with our desire to preserve the interactive pre-game and in-game fan experience that often centers around the dugouts, where fans can catch foul balls, see their favorite players up close and, if they are lucky, catch a tossed ball or other souvenir.”

Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman, the firm representing ticketholders in the MLB lawsuit, says in a statement that he’s glad to see the league addressing the safety issue, but contends that Manfred could do more than merely recommend that the teams extend the netting.

“By next season, we don’t want any spectators to be under the threat of being harmed by a foul ball or bat injury, period,” says Berman.

The recently amended complaint, filed in late October, includes detailed descriptions and images of dozens of injuries that the plaintiffs contend could have been prevented if more safety netting had been in place.

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