By Ken Reed

I’ve been torn about whether or not MLB teams should extend the protective netting behind home plate from dugout to dugout.

I’m fortunate to get to sit a few rows up behind the dugout at MLB games on occasion due to some lucky connections. I certainly can’t afford those seats, which can cost hundreds of dollars in some stadiums. But I love the view when I get to sit that close. You can see and hear the game in ways you just can’t in upper seating sections or on TV. You can see wrinkles and whisker stubs on the faces of pitchers and hitters, but what I really like watching are the emotions on those same faces during at-bats. I also like when players come to the dugout and toss a ball up to a kid behind the dugout. I like seeing the manager walk slowly back to the dugout, while mumbling to himself after taking his pitcher out.

Basically, I love the intimacy. It’s an “inside” experience. You really feel like part of the game.

However, I admittedly am a little nervous when I get to sit in those seats with my kids and/or wife. I know they don’t watch the game as intently as I typically do. In those cases, I’m definitely a little more on guard in case I have to try and protect them from a flying object. That certainly lessens the relaxation quotient at the ol’ ballpark a bit.

After reflecting about the fan, Tonya Carpenter, that got seriously injured from a flying piece of a broken bat in Boston, and realizing that MLB games are as much social events these days as sporting events (a lot of fans are looking at friends, family members and their smartphones as much as they are the game) I think it makes good sense to extend the protective netting from dugout to dugout at MLB stadiums.

They’ve already reached that decision in Japan for pro baseball games.

According to a Bloomberg News report, there are 1,750 spectators injured every year by batted balls at MLB games. It’s safe to assume a good chunk of those come in the lower sections, from dugout to dugout.

Yes, the owners will worry about lost revenue. They shouldn’t. Fans will still buy those seats at steep prices, as they do the seats directly behind home plate, where protective netting already somewhat obscures the view. The best seats in the house will continue to be those in the first 10 rows from dugout to dugout, netting or no netting.

Despite efforts by some to try and make every activity in life safe, we’ll never be able to make living an accident-proof adventure. But when there are solutions that are easy, reasonable and relatively inexpensive we should implement them. Netting from dugout to dugout fits those criteria.

Too often, we wait too long to make these changes. Often it requires a tragic death to take action. Ask the NHL. In 2002, a fan, Brittanie Cecil, 13, was killed by a puck at an NHL game. The tragedy prompted the NHL to put netting behind the goal line at every arena.

This time we lucked out, and it looks like Tonya Carpenter is going to be okay. We can certainly be grateful that Carpenter is going to survive being hit by a broken bat. At the same time, we need to take action now — not after a tragic death — and extend the protective netting around home plate from dugout to dugout.

The Major League Baseball Players Association has proposed extending the protective netting in both of the last collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations. The owners fought hard against it.

The players were right on this issue. Fan safety needs to take precedence over fan ambiance. Here’s hoping that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and his owners see the light and agree to this change in the name of fan safety.

And do it now. There’s no reason to wait for the next round of CBA negotiations.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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