The Chicago White Sox announced Tuesday that they will extend protective netting at their stadium all the way to the foul poles this summer. They will be the first of 30 MLB teams to make the move all the way to the outfield wall, but certainly not the last.
Two recent events seem to have hastened the expansion. The first event, and the one that immediately turned national attention toward MLB’s policy on protective netting, happened during a Cubs-Astros game in late May. A small child was hit by a foul liner off the bat of Albert Almora Jr., and was immediately rushed from the stands and taken to the hospital. The game temporarily came to a screeching halt, and Almora was visibly devastated. Players around the league have since renewed calls for expanded protective netting at all MLB stadiums, something commissioner Rob Manfred described as unlikely to happen this season.
The second event came just eight days ago, and at a White Sox home game. A foul ball ripped by dinger-smashing colossus Eloy Jimenez sent a fan sitting along the line in left to the hospital. The ball easily soared beyond the existing netting and struck the woman in the face, a few rows up from the field. She was reportedly “alert and communicative,” but that’s very scary all the same, especially so soon after the incident in Houston. Batters are punishing the ball like never before—the longer MLB goes without enhancing its protections of fans, the likelier we are to see another fan die because of a foul ball.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the White Sox are committed to making the change this summer, and will announce specifics at a later date. The Texas Rangers announced in late May that they will also extend their protective netting, although it will reach only to what the team described as “the crank, where the bowl geometry turns and sort of parallels,” which is short of the foul poles. Almora and Jimenez both applauded the move by the White Sox:
MLB rules currently mandate that protective netting must extend at least to the end of the dugouts. Expect that to change as proactive teams make the move on their own and players continue to push for league-wide expansion.