Just how much protection a team should provide for its fans at baseball games is a tricky question. Some fans argue that having the chance to catch a foul ball is a time honored tradition at a ball game, while others say the safety concerns should outweigh going home with a free souvenir. Teams want to protect their fans, but also want them to enjoy great views of the game, feel close to the players, and yes, maybe catch that elusive souvenir. Just how far should a team go to protect fans?
The Phillies took one step last season, increasing the protective netting behind home plate to include the areas from where the old netting stopped to the home plate side of the dugouts. Now, according to a notice given to season ticket holders, the Phillies are increasing the netting, with an eight-foot high net that will stretch from end-to-end on both dugouts.
An incident which visibly shook Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis last August may be one of the reasons for the increased protection. Galvis spoke out publicly about the need to increase safety, after a foul ball that he hit struck a young girl in the seats behind the dugout.
"It's 2016 and fans keep getting hit by foul balls when you're supposed to have a net to protect the fans," Galvis told Matt Breen of Philly.com after the game. "The fans give you the money, so you should protect them, right? We're worried about speeding up the game. Why don't you put up a net and protect all the fans? They're worried about the stupid stuff. They should worry about the real stuff. That's real stuff."
Galvis went on at the time to talk about his concerns for the young girl and the importance of keeping fans safe at games.
"What if I broke all her teeth. What if I broke her nose. If I hit her in one eye and she loses that. What are they going to do? They're going to forget in three days. It's going to be a big deal for two, three days. Everybody in TV, media, whatever. But after three days, what's going to happen? They're going to forget. But that family won't forget that. Do you think that little baby will forget that? It's true life. It's something you have to put before everything. Safety first. Safety," said Galvis.
Over a year ago, Major League Baseball issued recommendations on increasing the protective netting to any area within 70 feet of home plate. Only three teams, Kansas City, Minnesota and Washington complied completely, while 16 other teams - including the Phillies - increased the netting, but not to the full recommendations of MLB.
"We think this is a reasonable step which will provide additional protection for fans. We believe we can do this without obstructing the views of any of our fans," said Mike Stiles, the Phillies exceutive vice president and chief operating officer.
New netting is thinner and less obstructive for fans, while at the same time providing even greater strength and protection.
The Phillies have invited fans who hold season tickets near the dugouts to see exactly what the changes will mean for their particular seats by visiting the ballpark once the nets have been installed, which should be in the next few weeks. Presumably, the Phillies will work with any fans who are not happy with the netting, to find them an acceptable new seating area.
In the minor leagues, the ballpark in Clearwater, the home of the Phillies Spring Training, had upgrades to the protective netting prior to last season, but it was the only Phillies minor league park to see the increase. This Winter, the ballparks in both the Lehigh Valley and Reading have been upgraded with more protective netting, basically to the extent that the Phillies had done last season. None of the minor league parks have protective netting to protect fans sitting directly behind the dugouts.