Nobody would argue that it can be dangerous to have some of the best seats at a ballpark. You're closer to the action, which means you're closer to foul balls coming off a bat at laser speed, giving fans little to no time to react. Add to that the fact that not every fan is completely caught up in the action at a ballpark and tend to allow their attention to drift and there is a pretty good recipe for fans to get injured.
The recommendation from Major League Baseball - and it is just that, a recommendation, not a command - reads like this:
"Clubs are encouraged to implement or maintain netting (or another effective protective screen or barrier of their choosing) that shields from line-drive foul balls to all field-level seats that are located between the near ends of both dugouts (i.e., the ends of the dugouts located closest to home plate, inclusive of any adjacent camera wells) and within 70 feet of home plate."
The Phillies extended the netting behind home plate approximately 10 feet on each end, which brings it to the near end of the dugouts. One estimate suggests that somewhere around 500 fans will now be protected that weren't protected by the old netting. The team also installed a new type of netting, which is easier to see through, thus limiting the amount of distortion that fans will have to deal with from the old style thick netting of years gone by.
It turns out that adding netting isn't as simple as it may sound, especially for minor league clubs looking to add enhanced netting. One vendor suggested the cost of additional netting to be added to a ballpark would be around $12,000. That's for the traditional style of netting that has been used in baseball, with costs for the new enhanced netting going higher. That may be a drop in the proverbial bucket for a big league club, but for minor league teams, it's a larger expenditure. The way some of the netting is hung would need to be completely reconfigured as well if a team were to add additional netting. That would escalate the cost, as well.
The only minor league ballpark in the Phillies organization to have additional netting installed was Bright House Field in Clearwater, where the Phillies hold their Spring Training. The minor league parks in Lehigh Valley, Reading and Lakewood will not have additional netting and no decision has been made in Williamsport, where the Crosscutters season doesn't open until June.
Kurt Landes, the GM of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, said that there generally aren't too many fan injuries because of foul balls, or even bats that may fly into the crowd, but that the team takes them very seriously.
"In terms of how many there are, it's not a big issue, but just one fan being injured is a big issue to us, and to them," said Landes. "It's something that we'll look at going forward and is something that we're sort of planning for in the future."
Landes explained that they replace their netting every five years, so heading into their ninth season at Coca-Cola Park, there has already been one new netting system installed, with another coming up in the not too distant future.
"There is actually a lot that goes into it, it's not as simple as it may seem. Then, if you change the configuration, there are engineering issues and other things that you have to do with the wiring that holds it in place to make it all work and cause the least amount of interference to fans who want to see the game," said Landes.
Most people who know the game of baseball are aware of the safety issue and know the two best things that they can do to protect themselves. One, don't buy a ticket where foul balls are likely to come screaming into the stands at a high rate of speed. Two, pay attention. Fans have to be aware of what's going on during a game and realize that on any pitch, a ball - or bat - could be heading directly toward them. Too many times, fans are distracted by cell phones or other things and aren't paying attention to the game in front of them.
Teams are always willing to help fans choose seats that are protected by the netting or are in areas of the park not likely to have a lot of foul balls or at least are further away from home plate to give fans more time to react.
"Having fans be alert, especially if they have kids, is the best option," said Landes. "We always stress to fans to be aware during the game that balls and bats do sometimes wind up in the seats and they need to be alert to that."