Springfield Cardinals react to major league teams extending protective netting

Published: Jun. 19, 2019 at 5:33 PM CDT
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The Springfield Cardinals say they're keeping tabs on the news about two major league teams extending their protective netting to unprecedented lengths for fan safety, but have no plans yet to do the same.

It was May 29th at a major league game in Houston when a foul ball line drive hit by Cubs batter Albert Almora Jr. struck a four year-old girl. Many fans and players were visibly shaken, including Almora, a father of two, who fell to his knees when the incident happened and later had to be consoled by a security guard.

But the tragic hits just keep on coming.

There was the Cubs fan who was blinded and a woman attending a Dodgers game last year who was killed after being struck.

Closer to home a seven year-old boy had to have part of his skull removed and brain surgery after being hit by a ball last year at Missouri Southern.

An estimated 1,750 fans are hurt by foul balls and flying bats per year and with a ball leaving a bat at an average of 88 miles-per-hour, 18 miles faster than a car on the interstate, even if you're facing the field and paying attention there's still very little time to react.

Boston Red Sox fan Stephanie Wapenski had discoloration beneath both eyes and a nasty gash above her nose after being hit with a foul ball.

"The fact that I got hit between the eyes kind of reflects that I couldn't have been looking more flushly at what was going on," she said of her head-on hit.

In 2015 major league baseball officially recommended that teams extend their protective netting from dugout-to-dugout, and by last year, everyone had complied.

But after the latest incidents, the Chicago White Sox have announced they're extending their protection from foul pole-to-foul pole, the most netting of any major league ballpark.

The Texas Rangers say that their new stadium opening next season will have netting extending about three-quarters of the way down to the foul pole, also further than the recommendation from the commissioner's office.

The question now is, do the other stadiums need to follow?

"I think every stadium is designed different," explained Dan Reiter, the Springfield Cardinals General Manager in talking about how the decision will likely be handled differently depending on the facility's lay-out. "Like how far is the distance from between the baseline and where your seats start."

At Hammons Field the protective netting also runs from dugout-to-dugout, and Reiter said that with all the analytical data that's available these days, they know exactly where a foul ball lands and can react accordingly.

"So we have that information and try to look at it and think, 'O.K. this happened...why?'" he said. "I hope that every team is actually making a conscious decision to look at their data within their stadium."

The Springfield Cardinals data led them to raise their netting eight feet in addition to extending it to better protect fans in the elevated private box and concourse areas as spectators do have more distractions than ever before.

"Cell phones do play into this," Reiter said. "When our stadium started in 2005 there were no smartphones. It's a reality that we're different people now than we were 15 years ago. So will it change? The answer is yes."

But how much and how soon remains to be seen.

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