Saturday, December 12, 2015

Foul Balls & Fan Safety

As the Baseball Winter Meetings in Nashville wound down, Major League Baseball announced a recommendation to extend backstop netting, encompassing both dugouts, to improve fan safety.

I'm proud to report that we had already studied this in the early fall and ordered a new net consistent with the just-issued guidelines. It wasn't a simple, quick decision. We pulled in our architect, an engineer, vendors, other teams, our league office, MiLB, and we sampled opinions of season ticket holders. Joe Fitzsimons at Belk Architecture even developed a 3D computer model of the netting options. (Durham Bulls press release.)

Baseball traditionalists don't share our enthusiasm for this. To purists, the net is an obstruction. There is some good news about that. We'll be using a high tech fabric - Dyneema - that's thinner (but even stronger) than our current nylon net. I expect people will adjust quickly.

Meanwhile, more fans will have the option of sitting behind the net. We decided to double down on safety because patrons are more distracted, primarily by their mobile phones. (I heard sports talker Jim Rome blame this, not on foul balls, but on fans playing Candy Crush!) 

While I can't prove it, I feel that today's hitters are stronger and pitchers are throwing harder. That adds velocity to foul balls. Combine that with the very real distraction of mobile devices, and it's time to update the safety standards.