The eternal struggle between sightlines and safety, Part 2: Expanded netting

After various incidents and increased concern for fans in the expensive seats around the plate, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is getting ready to recommend that teams expand netting past the current backstop area.

The expectation here is that despite the lack of uniformity among backstops (the Coliseum’s notch is perhaps the most unique), nets will extend to the far ends of the dugouts. There’s some inconsistency there as well, since new ballparks sometimes have dugouts of unequal size in favor of home clubs. Unless legislation or legal action forces specific standards beyond the dugouts, it seems as if MLB will provide a minimum standard and give individual teams the discretion to go further if they wish.

Part of the view from Section 119 is "obstructed" by the backstop net

Part of the view from Section 119 is “obstructed” by the backstop net

At the Coliseum, the net is situated in front of the Diamond Level seats, extending to the start of the dugouts on either side. Designing extensions becomes complicated thanks to the walkways between the Diamond Level seats and the dugouts. Unlike a modern ballpark whose dugouts are directly connected clubhouses, at the Coliseum teams have to use these walkways to go into the stadium. Often these walkways are used as extra standing space for players, or as spots for photographers (see above photo).

Transition from the Diamond Level seats to regular seats creates a net design challenge

Transition from the Diamond Level seats to regular seats creates a net design challenge

Since these walkways have to be functional, they can’t have a net hanging down and obstructing them. I suspect that when the time comes to put in a new net, it will run from the far end of the A’s (third base) dugout atop the roof, then follow the shape of the original notch, going behind the Diamond Level seats, and around to the visitors dugout. The Diamond Level seats will get their own protection, in the form of another net that extends eight or nine feet high, just tall enough that anyone standing in that area will be safe. The Mets went a particularly heinous route by installing plexiglas-fronted boxes on the field for the World Series. I had thought that the plexiglas era was behind us, yet there those boxes stood at Citi Field, like penalty boxes for the rich.

net1b

Red line represents a net that angles down to the dugout, blue line extends the same height all the way to the end

Once you solve the problem of how to redo the backstop, there’s the question of how much protection is needed down the lines. Besides the issue of determining the length of the net, there’s also the height and shape. Given that many of the most dangerous bats and foul balls whiz right over the top of the dugout, it makes sense to have protection there. But does it need to be the same height as the backstop? Can it taper down to the far end of the dugout?

MLB and its clubs probably have some decent statistical data that can create a framework for recommendations on the height and length of nets in every ballpark. I hope the teams take this to heart, as there have been too many avoidable injuries in the last year, let alone decades. Then again, sometimes when you try to protect yourself you just set yourself up for another kind of danger.

14 thoughts on “The eternal struggle between sightlines and safety, Part 2: Expanded netting

  1. it’s no longer if but when new expanded nets are put up thru out all mlb parks.

    • Disagree. MLB will continue to resist this. It ruins the sightlines of the most valuable seats and removes the players from being able to interact with fans. MLB will not want to mess with this.

      • Certainly hope so. We have to remember that what ever MLB does will filter down thru the Minor Leagues also, ruining that experience as well. All these years go by and now a few push this netting idea because of a couple of incidents at Fenway. The whack job from Alameda who started a class action suit has never been hit by a ball and sits in the Plaza level at that. She should have “No Standing” in court. So far I don’t see MLB caveing in. I can say again for me the netting in Hockey has severely limited my choices of sitting at an NHL game as well as Minor League games. The idea of Having a net over the dugout would be extreme.

  2. Thanks for providing those three great images, and the post.

    Looking at that overhead image…What would be the downside to having only 20 feet of foul territory all the way around? Dugouts start just behind the 3b coaches box, the backstop is just behind the edge of the dirt behind home plate. Since we are moving toward nets all the way past the dugouts anyway, the tradeoff should be bringing the fans closer to the action. Improved safety and a better view, with the ability to hear on-field dialogue – best of both worlds.

    You watch an NBA game and feel how close the fans in the expensive seats are to the action and then a baseball game and it’s night and day.

    Especially when we consider building a new stadium, and the need for 600 feet(?) in all directions at the site…that’s 50 wasted feet behind home plate right there, to my way of thinking.

    Is there a league rule that mandates the distance between home plate and the backstop?

    • The only guideline in the MLB rules is this:

      It is recommended that the distance from home base to the backstop, and from the base lines to the nearest fence, stand or other obstruction on foul territory shall be 60 feet or more.

      Ballparks have been moving closer and closer inside 60 feet over time. I heard sometime in the past that the 60 feet restriction is as much about player safety as fan safety. I can’t see it being much closer than 45-50 feet unless MLB grants exceptions.

      • Player safety is a good point. Guys get hit in the dugout every year by errant warmup throws across the infield (Cano last year, iirc), or thrown bats.

        Still, if an extra ~30 feet is the difference between successfully shoehorning a stadium into a preferred site or not – HomeBase, Diridon, wherever – I think that area behind home plate provides wiggle room. Similar to SF getting exception with that short porch in RF.

    • Recreation Ballpark in Visalia has a backstop 39 feet behind the plate (according to my tape-measure-to-computer-screen measurements), which tapers down as it goes away from the plate. It also has screens covering all seats in the infield section and the field level ones most of the way down the lines. The main noticeable difference is that a wild pitch is not an automatic base, depending on the skill of the catcher and speed of the runner, which can be a positive or negative depending on your point of view.

      Bicentennial Field, formerly in Allentown, PA, had seats even closer, looks to be about 25 feet away, but the minor league team got a new park and it’s a softball field now. http://www.geocities.ws/ctrap85/Allentown__P8040382__Panorama_600x245.jpg http://www.digitalballparks.com/CanAm/Allentown_-_RF_V2T.jpg http://ballparkreviews.com/atown/atown2.jpg

    • It’s all going to fall in place: Rams and Chargers share a stadium in LA, 49ers and Raiders (kicking and screaming) share a stadium in Santa Clara. Unless the Raiders want to move to San Antonio, or Saint Louis, neither of which has committed to building a new stadium anyway.

      • Would the Niners be willing to host a superior team at their own stadium? (at this point, the Raiders could make the playoffs – while the NIners are likely looking to tank the remainder of the season to secure a good spot in the draft) – the teams are going in opposite directions.

  3. “Would the Niners be willing to host a superior team at their own stadium? (at this point, the Raiders could make the playoffs – while the NIners are likely looking to tank the remainder of the season to secure a good spot in the draft) – the teams are going in opposite directions.”

    You don’t make decisions like this based on what’s happening at a specific moment in time. These are decades-long commitments. Sports are cyclical; the competitive positions of the Raiders and Niners will flip back and forth over time.

    Anyway, the Niners and Raiders fan bases are geographically and demographically distinct; I don’t think either one is going to poach significant numbers of the other’s hard core fans.

    Casual fans will come and go based on won-loss record, but that doesn’t mean the Niners will lose out by having the Raiders at Levi’s. If the Niners stink and the Raiders are gone, the casual fans won’t go to Niners games, they’ll just stay home.

    • Of course, 49er season ticketholders would get first crack at Raiders tickets, as per the PSL agreements they signed.

      • 49er season ticketholders do not have rights to buy tickets for games of NFL teams other than the 49ers that are held at Levi’s stadium; such games are expressly excluded from the definition of “Events” to which rights are given. See Sections 1(c) and 4(b) of the SBL Terms and Conditions: http://levisstadium.strmarketplace.com/Images/library/Levis-Stadium/Terms_and_Conditions_Levis_Stadium_SBLs.pdf

        Levi’s was built with the specific intent of potentially hosting a second NFL team, the most likely one being the Raiders. An SBL contract structure that said the Raiders would have to screw over their existing season ticket holders in order to move there would have been a likely deal breaker and therefore an idiotic move by the Niners. It’s not like any Niner fan was going to base their decision whether or not to buy an SBL based on the theoretical chance at buying Raiders tickets.

      • Hopefully the Raiders will consider Santa Clara as an option. However, if the Rams and Chargers move to LA, San Diego would be a tempting choice for Davis. The Chargers average 66,000 per game, with a bad team, and playing at an old multi-purpose stadium (similar to the Raiders situation)

        Also the SD mayor will pursue an NFL team if the the Bolts bolt for Los Angeles. And San Diego’s proposed financing for a new NFL stadium appears to be a package that the Raiders would be interested in.

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