The White Sox will become the first team in Major League Baseball to extend protective netting to the foul poles.
Dangerous line drives flying into the crowd are nothing new, but they’ve gained significant attention recently, most notably thanks to a ball off the bat of Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. striking a young fan earlier this year during a game at Minute Maid Park in Houston. As the tracked exit velocities of batted balls continue to increase, the danger to fans sitting in unprotected sections of stadiums is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.
The White Sox announced Tuesday that they will be extending the netting at Guaranteed Rate Field to the foul poles later this summer. Protective netting was extended to the ends of both dugouts in recent seasons, but fans sitting beyond that protection have been struck with balls, including a fan at Guaranteed Rate Field, who was taken to the hospital after being hit with a line drive off the bat of Eloy Jimenez earlier this season.
The Texas Rangers will have extended netting when their new stadium opens for the 2020 season, though it isn’t expected to reach the foul poles.
With the White Sox committing to increasing fan safety, several players were asked about the developments before Tuesday night’s Crosstown game on the North Side.
“I think it's great,” pitcher Lucas Giolito said. “For me, I think that in today's day and age, you have a lot of young fans, and guys are hitting the ball harder. I see the counter arguments like, 'Don't sit there' or, 'Just pay attention to the game.' Dude, no matter how much you're paying attention to the game, if that thing's coming in 115 miles an hour with tail, no matter if you have a glove this big, it could hit you right in the forehead. For me, being around baseball for so long, I think it's a smart move because it just keeps people safe. I hate seeing young kids get hit, having to go to the hospital. It just leaves a sick feeling in all of our stomachs. At the end of the day, I think it's the right move.”
"Yes, it’s good for them so the ball doesn’t hit them," Jimenez said. "When I hit the woman, I was super sad for that because I knew I hit it hard and it was straight in the face. You know that doesn’t feel good. That's why it's going to be good."
For many, this is a no-brainer of a decision to make it safer for fans of any age to attend a game. Some will bemoan the change in view from the seats in impacted areas of the stadium, but whether because of the phone in everyone’s pocket or just talking with the person next to you, “not paying attention” is a part of the experience of attending a game.
Incorporating additional safety measures makes too much sense not to do it, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Major League Baseball follow suit and impose similar requirements at every ballpark in the future.