In the midst of a wide-ranging discussion in Major League Baseball about extending the safety netting at big league ballparks, a Chicago-area minor league team has already taken action.
The Kane County Cougars, a Class-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks playing their games at Northwestern Medicine Field in Geneva, decided to extend the protective netting at their home ballpark earlier this year. That decision came before a series of highly-publicized incidents in which fans were injured by flying baseballs, and the team said that plenty of research and thought went into the decision.
“We did years of research, and this year we decided to do it,” team General Manager Curtis Haug said. “If you sit here long enough, (the netting) becomes invisible.”
The Cougars have already done what numerous clubs are currently pondering doing. The team extended netting all the way from the area behind home plate to the foul poles in both left and right field, and the club isn’t looking back.
“The bottom line is it provides fans a better fan experience,” Haug said. “It gets rid of the poles that were there, and it gives them peace of mind.”
Earlier this week, the Chicago White Sox announced that they will add new netting to Guaranteed Rate Field in the wake of several fans being seriously hurt by foul balls. All teams were required to extend netting to the end of each dugout beginning last season, but the White Sox decision to take netting even further is a first among big league ballclubs.
After the announcement, Cougars’ executives are applauding the decision despite some controversy over its implementation.
“I think it’s great. You got guys who are bigger, faster, and stronger and hitting balls harder, so it just makes sense to have something to protect the fans,” Haug said.
Haug said that he’s gotten mostly positive feedback on the new netting from fans, and also from players who no longer have to worry about a scorching line drive off of their bats potentially injuring fans in the stands.
“It’s the best thing we have done in a long time,” he said.
The team said that the extended netting cost approximately $80,000, and Haug said that the new net is stronger, and thinner, than previous iterations of the material.