Coca-Cola Park (Photo by Cheryl Pursell)

Minor league affiliates consider safety netting extension

On Tuesday, the Phillies announced that they would extend the safety netting at Citizens Bank Park down both foul lines to better protect fans from foul balls. The same issues exist in the minors and it’s possible that there will be changes coming to some ballparks.

At Triple-A Lehigh Valley, the IronPigs extended the netting from just behind home plate down to the far ends of the dugouts. They acted quickly, following the Phillies lead after they had extended netting to protect fans behind the dugouts during the 2017 season. IronPigs GM Kurt Landes says that safety considerations aren’t done as much in response to issues as they are done proactively.

“As always, we evaluate all of our safety protocols each off-season to make sure we continue to do the right thing by our fans to ensure Coca-Cola Park is a safe facility,” said Landes. “We’re proud that we’ve extended our netting twice already over the past few years but continue to evaluate.”

Lehigh Valley has taken a proactive stance on many issues and it’s likely that they will ultimately make changes at some point. The same is true at Double-A Reading. The Fightins have been quick to make upgrades at FirstEnergy Park.

Prior to the 2018 season, the Lakewood BlueClaws not only extended the netting to the far ends of the dugouts, but also raised the height of the netting from 24-feet to 32-feet. Again, with the swift reaction of the team in the past, don’t be surprised if changes are made pretty quickly.

Williamsport, where MLB plays their annual Little League Classic, has undergone a number of renovations and changes over the past few seasons. The park remains small, seating a maximum of 2,500 fans, and doesn’t offer full seating down the foul lines. As part of the renovations, netting was placed in front of the entire seating bowl, which runs from first base to third base, in 2017. There are special seating decks further down the foul lines which hold a maximum of 400 fans per game and do not have protective netting.

The bottom line is that the Phillies minor league affiliates have been quick to respond to safety and fan comfort needs over the recent years. What fans may not realize is the logistics of adding netting. It’s not as simple as hanging a net. There is also considerable cost to a project like that, which the teams have taken on in the past and wouldn’t allow to stand in the way of upgrades if they’re deemed necessary.

In February of 2018, MLB announced that all teams were instructed to extend the netting to the far ends of the dugouts. So far, no edict has been given to extend them even further, but with many teams jumping on the idea quickly, it’s likely that MLB may not need to make the call.

As for the International League, which includes the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the topic is largely left to individual teams to make the decision. Many of the teams in the league, like the IronPigs, are considering the issue.

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