New Netting Regulations: How Will They Filter Down from MLB Level?

March 4, 2016

    

By Mary Helen Sprecher

The crack of the bat has always been a sound that fills baseball fans with excitement. After last season, however, when multiple instances of injuries to spectators occurred because of stray batted balls and even from flying pieces of a broken bat, that sound might be more of a warning signal.

Major League Baseball, following an in-depth study, recommended that all teams should lengthen the safety netting at their ballparks to increase fan safety. Several clubs quickly responded with enthusiastic endorsements of the guidelines.

An article in MLB.com noted that "Teams will be encouraged to add netting, or some sort of protective barrier, to shield fans from balls and bats that sometimes go into the stands in all field-level seats between the near ends of both dugouts and within 70 feet of home plate.”

And while fans will see the new regulations implemented this season, the question comes up: where else will such precautions be taken?

In the Minors, for one. At the time of the release of the MLB statement, Minor League Baseball displayed strong support. In fact, MiLB president and CEO Pat O'Conner not only endorsed the recommendations but encouraged all clubs to implement them as well.

But what about other organizations? Will changes be implemented at the college level and downward, through high school, recreational and even Little League? It may be too soon to know the widespread results of the new regulations, but in a litigious society, it costs more to prevent injuries than it does to deal with the fallout from them. And that, say those in the field, should encourage field owners to evaluate their current safety precautions.

“We highly encourage customers to conduct regular audits to make sure that there is enough protective coverage, proper installation, consideration of environmental factors, among other possible concerns,” says Josh Hicks of Promats Athletics in Salisbury, North Carolina. 

The dimensions of netting are, he notes, in some cases, governed under official rules, but may be applicable to other venues as well. 

“For MLB and MiLB baseball applications, safety netting should be a minimum of 30’ high and extend to the end of each dugout. This would also be applicable for a lot of Division I venues where spectators are seated behind the dugouts. In venues with smaller programs, fans usually sit behind the backstop. In these cases, backstop netting is sufficient.”

Megan Buczynski, P.E., LEED AP, of Activitas in Dedham, Massachusetts, says her company also receives requests from facilities where practices for multiple sports are held.

“Where we do see a great demand for safety netting is in track and field facilities when track and lacrosse are both vying for field time in the spring,” says Buczynski. “In a few facilities, we have installed 10’ high netting around the inside perimeter of the track to provide a barrier between the track and the field.  This allows the school/institution the ability to hold practices at similar times. There are certainly considerations and construct ability considerations for using this type of system, but we have seen it used very successfully from a range of clients.”

In track and field installations, throwing events become a concern, according to Matt Moyse of Sportsfield Specialties, Inc., in Delhi, New York. “Protective cages are required for discuss and hammer, but we do have requests for extensions in locations where throwing events interact with other activities at the facility. In regards to batting cages, we recommend installing netting at least on the home side of the baseball/softball facility.”

In addition, says Moyse, his company has received requests for perimeter netting, which is used beyond the outfield and along the sidelines to protect populated areas adjacent to the playing field. “While we occasionally have requests from professional venues, most are from lower level organizations like high schools, community centers, and colleges,” he notes.

While some field owners have expressed concerns about netting that impairs or inhibits spectators’ sightlines, the MLB has noted that clubs and online ticket sellers have worked on ways of providing customers with additional information at the point of sale about which seats are, and are not, behind netting.

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