I was doing some recreational reading, when I came across this article in the Houston Chronicle by Jenny Dial Creech.
The article opens with the line: “The Astros just took another step to enhance the fan experience at Minute Maid Park.” It goes on to tell about how the Astros have extended the netting behind home plate down the right and left field line, all the way to the foul poles.
Due to some recent foul ball injuries, including one death in Dodger stadium, where a 79-year-old woman was hit in the head by a foul ball while sitting behind home plate (the ball made it just over the netting and hit her, anyway), there’s been a movement for stadiums to extend the netting.
To some degree, I understand the move to extend the netting. However, I would not call it an enhancement of the fan experience.
One of the great things about baseball, that sets it apart from other sports, is how available the players and coaches are to the fans. If you arrive early at the ballpark, or happen to be near the dugout, you always have a shot at meeting, talking to, getting your picture with, or getting an autograph from a player.
And if you’re sitting anywhere near the dugout, you also stand a chance of getting a ball thrown to you by a player returning to the dugout after catching the final out of the inning.
In general, the unobstructed views create an amazing fan experience that makes you feel like part of the action.
Recently, I watched a Marlins game at their home stadium, where they have the netting, and it was awful. I never wanted to sit behind home plate because of the netting, and now I would never pay to sit in the lower seating because of it.
In that case, I had the first row behind their dugout. But I found the netting so distracting that I moved to the second tier.
Having been so close, I don’t even know how kids can get autographs from the players. The way the netting was set up, there was no way to get the ball to the player to sign.
Again, the foul ball injuries are real, but it’s also a known risk when purchasing those seats. There couldn’t be more signage and warnings about paying attention.
Perhaps the compromise is that you have to be at least 15 to 18 years old to sit in the lower, unprotected sections. Let kids down to the fence to interact with players and coaches, and then send them to their seats some time before the game starts (similar to what they do now).
While there are exceptions, I’m normally not on the side of regulations that protect us from ourselves. If you know the risks and want to sit there, that fan experience should exist.