Protective netting at Major League Baseball stadiums to guard against injuries for fans in field-level seats has once again become a top issue in recent weeks.
Calls to increase the netting further down the foul lines in order to protect fans from hard-hit balls have grown after a young girl was injured by a foul ball from Albert Almora Jr. of the Chicago Cubs during a game between the Cubs and Houston Astros at Houston’s Minute Maid Park earlier this season.
While MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said he will not force teams to expand netting in their stadiums while the season is still underway, the Chicago White Sox and Washington Nationals recently announced that they will add netting down their parks’ foul lines later this summer.
The White Sox’s Guaranteed Rate Field will become the first MLB park to have protective netting all the way to each foul pole.The Los Angeles Dodgers have not released details but said changes are coming to Dodger Stadium.
Veteran pitcher Rich Hill has made his position clear on the current issue. Hill recently called the MLB Player’s Association to advocate for increased netting across all ballparks, and passionately explained why, via Jorge Castillo of the L.A. Times:
“It’s such a little investment to protect a life,” Hill said. “Everybody puts their seat belt on when they get in a car. Times change. A lot of things have changed to indicate in these circumstances that we’re in a different time. That’s it. Period. And I don’t think anybody will be upset by that.
Hill and his wife Caitlin have a young son, Brice, who is not much older than the girl who got hit by Almora’s foul ball. Hill’s friend and teammate Clayton Kershaw also has two young children.
Thus, it makes sense that the safety of younger fans would weigh heavily on Hill’s mind:
“One more fan having a severe injury or, in a really unfortunate situation, a death, is something that is unacceptable. You come to the ballpark for a reprieve and to take a break from the hectic schedule of life to enjoy watching us go out there and play. And you want to feel comfortable and safe.”
Hill and his family also know better than most the pain of losing a child. Rich and Caitlin Hill lost their second son, Brooks, to a rare genetic disorder less than two months after he was born.
On the fifth anniversary for Brooks Hill’s death earlier in 2019, Rich Hill announced a $1 million fundraiser to help research at MassGeneral Hospital for Children. He contributed $575,000 of his own money to kick off the fundraiser and authored a powerful essay about Brooks’ life that was published in the Players’ Tribune on April 30.