MLB recommends netting between dugouts

MLB recommends netting between dugouts

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- After an in-depth study, Major League Baseball has recommended that all teams should lengthen the safety netting at their ballparks to increase fan safety. Several clubs quickly responded with enthusiastic endorsements of the guidelines.

Teams will be encouraged to add netting, or some sort of protective barrier, to shield fans from balls and bats that sometimes go into the stands in all field-level seats between the near ends of both dugouts and within 70 feet of home plate.

"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," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "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 pregame 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."

One of the challenges of implementing the recommendations is that each ballpark has a unique configuration. So the Commissioner's Office has retained a consultant specializing in stadium architecture and protective netting to assist interested clubs.

Teams will also be asked to continue to educate fans about the dangers of objects flying into the stands and the importance of remaining alert. The Commissioner's Office will also be working with the clubs and online ticket sellers to identify ways to provide customers with additional information at the point of sale about which seats are, and are not, behind netting.

"I am confident that this recommendation will result not only in additional netting at Major League ballparks but also draw additional attention to the need for fans who make the choice not to sit behind netting to be prepared for the possibility of foul balls and bats entering the stands," Manfred said.

The immediate response was overwhelmingly positive.

The Phillies were among the first to announce their intentions to comply, not only at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia but at their Spring Training home, Bright House Field, in Clearwater, Fla.

"We understand that our fans differ in their opinions about sitting behind protective netting and we will do our best to accommodate those different preferences," Phillies executive vice president and chief operating officer Mike Stiles said. "We anticipate that [this] will require us to expand our protective netting behind home plate about 10 feet in width on both sides, reaching to the near side of each dugout. We also plan to replace all of our existing netting with newer material, which is as strong but thinner and more easily viewed through."

The Red Sox issued this statement: "The Red Sox commend Major League Baseball and Commissioner Manfred for their thoughtful analysis on this very important issue. The league has completed a thorough investigation in consultation with all 30 clubs, including the Red Sox, and with input from a variety of experts.

"The Red Sox take matters of fan safety very seriously and intend to follow the recommendations put forth by Major League Baseball by expanding the backstop netting behind home plate for the 2016 season. The club is in the process of evaluating different design options to identify the best solution for Fenway Park, and is proactively reaching out to the ticket holders most affected by the planned changes."

The Dodgers, Cubs and Rays also announced that they intend to comply with the recommendations.

"I don't think we're taking anything away from the fans who are there," said Rays vice president of operations/facilities Rick Nafe. "My own personal observation -- I have sat in seats in that area that are unprotected by a net, and I tend to enjoy the the game a lot more when I know there's a net in front of me. You know, some of those seats you have to pay attention constantly. That's just a personal opinion. But I don't think we're going to be taking anything away from the fans."

The Reds and Astros said that Great American Ball Park and Minute Maid Park, respectively, already meet the recommended standards.

The initiative even gathered support beyond MLB.

"Minor League Baseball is very appreciative of the time and effort that went into the research done by Major League Baseball in an effort to balance fan safety and the overall fan experience," MiLB president and CEO Pat O'Conner said in a statement. "We wholeheartedly endorse these recommendations ... in regard to the protective netting in our ballparks and encourage our clubs to implement these recommendations."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.