The Minnesota Twins will stretch the protective netting for fans behind the home plate area at the intimate confines of Target Field to the far ends of each dugout, the team announced Wednesday.
This move begins with the start of the next season and follows Major League Baseball’s recommendations issued last week in an effort to protect fans who are increasingly distracted from watching the action and being struck by foul balls.
The distance from home plate to lower-level seats at Target Field is shorter than any in the majors, according to the Twins.
“The Twins commend MLB and Commissioner Rob Manfred for their leadership on this critical issue and the completion of a thorough analysis in consultation with all 30 clubs,” Twins President Dave St. Peter said in a statement accompanying the announcement.
When MLB made the recommendations, Manfred acknowledged that the additional netting creates a player-fan barrier in an area of stadiums where fans seek autographs before games, pursue foul balls or plead for a ball from players as they come into the dugout from the field at the end of each half-inning.
Along with expanding the netting, St. Peter added, the team will be “educating fans regarding the dangers posed by batted balls and bats entering the stands” with warning messages on signage in the stadiums, on tickets and elsewhere.
There have been several instances in major league parks in recent years of fans being seriously injured by foul balls. The use of smartphones in the stands has been a major factor in fans failing to see a ball or bat coming their way.
Detroit Tigers pitching star Justin Verlander called for the netting behind home plate to be extended after a fan was struck by a foul ball Aug. 21 at Comerica Park. Fenway Park has had multiple incidents, including on June 5, when a woman was hit with a broken bat during a Boston Red Sox game and needed brain surgery.
A lawsuit filed in July against MLB, the commissioner and all of its franchises is calling for the netting to go all the way to both foul poles.
“Our question for Rob Manfred and these member teams now is how many more traumatic brain injuries, stitches and metal plates until the MLB decides to put fans first and extend the safety netting,” said attorney Steve Berman, whose firm filed the suit on behalf of fans and has offices in nine major league cities.
The 120-page suit, amended in October, lists 11 instances of fans being hit by foul balls in a three-week period from Sept. 22 to Oct. 12, including on Sept. 28, when a woman was hit near an eye by a foul ball during a game at Yankees Stadium.
Baseball has had one known death involving a foul ball. Alan Fish, 14, died a few days after being struck in the head by a foul ball at Dodger Stadium in 1970.
Regarding the netting itself, the height above the dugouts will be roughly 7 feet, somewhat less than what is in place more directly behind home plate.
The team added that it will use the best visual option to make the netting as “minimally obtrusive” as possible, the announcement read.
St. Peter said the team is “reaching out to season-ticket holders most affected by these changes. We fully understand fans differ in relation to their opinions about sitting behind protective netting and will do our best to accommodate the varying preferences,” suggesting that other seating options will be arranged for those who wish to have a clear view of the field.