White Sox become first MLB team to extend protective netting from foul pole to foul pole

The Chicago White Sox are officially the first MLB team to reach the logical conclusion of the unceasing spate of foul balls seriously hurting fans.

Starting Monday, games at Guaranteed Rate Field will be played with protective netting reaching from foul pole to foul pole.

White Sox extend the nets

CBS Chicago’s Megan Mawicke shared a video Monday showing the new protective netting.

The move had been previously reported to be in the works, but the White Sox have struck first and farthest.

The foul pole-to-foul pole netting, which will likely see its share of gripes from fans who prioritize not having to give up one percent of their visibility over the safety of children, matches the nets commonly seen in Japanese and Korean games.

Other MLB teams extending nets

The Washington Nationals also debuted an extended protective netting on Monday, though theirs only extended to an area in the outfield where the stands angle alongside the field.

Two more stadiums could see imminent changes as well, the Texas Rangers were reported in May to be planning the same thing the Nationals have now done while the Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly have plans to extend the nets an unspecified distance.

All of these changes are coming a day after the latest incident of a fan injured by a foul ball. A line drive off the bat of Francisco Lindor flew into the Progressive Field first-base stands on Sunday, hitting a 3-year-old boy who had to be taken to the hospital. Lindor reacted by joining the chorus of MLB players calling for the nets to be extended.

The boy hurt by the Lindor pitch now joins three different fans who have been reported hurt by foul balls at games this year. A 2-year-old struck at a Chicago Cubs-Houston Astros game received skull fractures and seizures, while two more fans had to be taken to the hospital after getting hit at a Dodgers and Nationals game.

Are foul pole-to-foul pole nets a logical endgame for fan safety?

Hopefully, the White Sox’s new nettings will mean the end of all foul ball-related injuries barring freak accidents, like the foul ball that popped over a Dodger Stadium net and resulted in the death of a fan last year.

A White Sox executive reportedly said there was research backing the decision, saying it was a need evolution for the fan experience.

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

“We are always focused on the ballpark experience for our fans, and, of course, safety is a big part of that consideration,” Scott Reifert, Sox vice president for communications, said Wednesday. “Research into this step goes back months, but [chairman] Jerry Reinsdorf and [Illinois Sports Facility Authority chairman] Manny Sanchez talked about this in mid-June and quickly agreed that extending the protective netting was the right step to take for the ballpark and our team. The game changes, the fan experience constantly changes and we need to evolve, as well.”

Many have been quick to point to the rise of smartphones as the main change in fan experience that is causing the rise in reports of fans being hit by foul balls. And that makes sense, as it’s easy to visualize your standard teenager staring at their phone during live game action. Really, it’s easy to accuse any younger fan of not paying attention to the game unlike past generations, which supposedly had more respect, focus, etc. You get the point.

Of course, that reaction ignores the simple truth that fans today are watching a different game than the one played even 20 years ago.

The rise in pitcher velocity that has defined the modern game has led to a major consequence for all fans within striking distance of home plate: foul balls. FiveThirtyEight’s Travis Sawchik documented a nearly 12 percent increase in number of foul balls hit last season compared to 20 years ago. And not only are there more fouls, but it makes sense that faster pitches mean faster foul balls even if players aren’t able to square up the pitch.

Protective netting at MLB ballparks
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Protective netting at MLB ballparks
TORONTO, ON - JULY 1: A view of the new extended safety netting installed this season above the home dugout during the Toronto Blue Jays MLB game against the Detroit Tigers at Rogers Centre on July 1, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
BOSTON - JULY 10: Boston Red Sox player Mookie Betts reaches around the new protective netting for fans to sign some autographs before the start of the game. The Boston Red Sox host the Texas Rangers in a regular season MLB baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston on July 10, 2018. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 10: Greg Bird #33 of the New York Yankees leaps into the protective netting surrounding the infield as he tries to catch a foul ball in an interleague MLB baseball game against the New York Mets on June 10, 2018 at Citi Field in the Queens borough of New York City. Mets won 2-0. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - MAY 19: A young fan chews on the safety netting newly installed this season before the MLB game between the Oakland Athletics and the Toronto Blue Jays on May 19, 2018 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, ON. (Photo by Jeff Chevrier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 22: General view of netting in front of the stands during a game between the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates at Great American Ball Park on May 22, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Reds won 7-2. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 31: The netting is seen as Jake Odorizzi #12 of the Minnesota Twins delivers a pitch against the Cleveland Indians during the game on May 31, 2018 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Indians defeated the Twins 9-8. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Marjama falls against the backstop netting chasing a foul ball hit by Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas in the first inning on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 8: The newly installed netting is shown during a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays on April 8, 2018 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 9: Newly installed safety netting frames up pitcher Ryan Tepera #52 of the Toronto Blue Jays as he warms up against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 9, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 8: The newly installed netting is shown during a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays on April 8, 2018 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - APRIL 05: New safety netting in place that stretches out to the end of both dugouts at Coors Field April 05, 2018 before the Colorado Rockies open their season at home to play the Atlanta Braves Friday afternoon. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 8: The newly installed netting is shown during a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays on April 8, 2018 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

It’s easy to say fans should just pay attention during live game action, but that is an unrealistic expectation. Not to mention that some fans (or really most fans) might not even be capable of stopping a 100-mph foul ball careening toward their face, paying attention or not.

Putting nets in front of every infield seating section might sound extreme, but how much longer could a sport allow fans young and old to experience serious risk for something as simple as looking down for two seconds?

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