The Chicago White Sox will extend protective netting to each foul pole at Guaranteed Rate Field, making it the first team in Major League Baseball to take this step.
The move, being done in collaboration with the ballpark owner the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, has reportedly been in the works for some time and will be completed later this summer.
But calls for more protective netting have amplified in recent weeks after a four-year-old girl was struck by sharply batted ball and injured May 29 at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. Less than two weeks later, a fan at Guaranteed Rate Field required hospitalization after also being hit by a batted ball.
The White Sox, prior to its game on Tuesday night against its crosstown rivals the Chicago Cubs, said that leadership of both the club and Illinois Sports Facilities Authority “have agreed to make the changes as soon as possible this season. Exact details and timing of the project will be announced at a later date”.
MLB initially recommended but did not mandate in late 2015 to the 30 clubs that they each lengthen their protective netting. After a rolling design and installation process lasting more than two years, every MLB club by the start of the 2018 season reached a standard of netting extending to at least the far ends of each dugout.
But as the sport has continued to emphasize exit velocities and launch angles for batters and fan injuries have continued to occur, the prior protective boosts have not proven sufficient, in turn fueling the increased outcries for more netting. Following the fan injury last month in Houston, the league said in a statement that “we will continue our efforts on this important [netting] issue”.
The White Sox’s move is expected to be copied by other MLB teams in the future. But the issue still presents a delicate balancing act for team executives in which they are attempting to ensure fan safety but also provide maximum levels of proximity and intimacy in fan experience for their highest-paying ticket buyers.