One of the most distressing stories of the 2019 Major League Baseball season came when Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. hit a foul ball that struck and injured a young Houston Astros fan, causing her to be hospitalized.
The incident at Minute Maid Park became a major talking point and raised new concerns about fan safety in mLB stadiums. Many want to see protective netting extended beyond dugouts on the first-base and third-base foul lines, covering the area where the girl was sitting when Almora’s foul ball hit her.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, however, does not appear ready to impose a change like that on stadiums while the 2019 season is still underway. He also believes the league has done well to promote and increase fan safety under his watch, according to Tim Booth of the Associated Press:
“Look, I think it is important that we continue to focus on fan safety,” Manfred said. “If that means that the netting has to go beyond the dugouts, so be it. Each ballpark is different. The reason I hesitate with ‘beyond the dugout,’ I mean, a lot of clubs are beyond the dugout already. But, there is a balance here. We do have fans that are vocal about the fact that they don’t want to sit behind nets. I think that we have struck the balance in favor of fan safety so far, and I think we will continue to do that going forward.”
Despite the unlikely chance of sweeping change before the end of the 2019 season, Manfred seems open to discussing the issue more thoroughly in the winter:
“It’s very difficult given how far the clubs have gone with the netting to make changes during the year, because they really are structural issues,” Manfred said. “But, because safety is so important, I’m sure that conversation will begin and continue into the offseason.”
After another young girl was struck by a foul ball at Yankee Stadium in 2017, Manfred’s office requested teams to extend protective netting to the ends of each dugout at their respective home stadiums.
The Los Angeles Dodgers were among the teams to comply with the request, and installed the additional netting at both Dodger Stadium and Camelback Ranch before the 2018 season. In December 2015, the Dodgers announced plans to extend the screen behind home plate to cover the seating area between the ends of the dugouts closest to home plate and within 70 feet of home plate.
While some fans have been vocal about the nets obstructing their view of the game, as Manfred points out, reception to previous net extensions like the one prior to 2018 has generally been positive.