The Chicago White Sox have become the first team in the major leagues to extend protective netting from foul pole to foul pole, on Monday night against the Miami Marlins.
The extra netting at Guaranteed Rate Field was in place for the Sox’s first home game since the All-Star break. Sox Senior Vice President of Communications Scott Reifert said it took about three days for ballpark work crews to hang the extra netting, then several more days to tighten it up and test it.
The Sox announced the safety measure last month, a week after a foul ball at the park sent a woman to the hospital with her head bleeding.
“People understand that the ballpark experience has changed from just a few years ago,” Reifert said. “Pitchers throw harder, balls come off bats harder. People are spending more time looking down at their phones — we’re all guilty of that — or looking at the scoreboard. So I think safety matters to folks.”
The new netting in Chicago is 30 feet high above the dugouts and reaches a maximum height of 45 feet down the lines. As for ground rules, the nets are treated like walls, so if a ball bounces or is thrown into the netting it remains in play.
Sox rookie star Eloy Jimenez hit the foul last month that injured the woman.
“It’s really good because now the fans are going to be more safe,” he said. “Especially because line-drive foul balls, most of the time they’re super hard.”
At Monday’s Sox-Marlins game, fans had varying views of the new netting.
“Honestly, looking at this makes me dizzy,” said Missi Cundari, who had seats three sections past third base dugout, a couple rows back.
With the prior netting, she said, “the ball boys would throw us balls and the players would come up and chat. We never felt unsafe.”
Another fan named Michael, who declined to give his last name, was sitting two rows off the field, two sections down from the Sox dugout on the third base side.
“Tough call, safety versus pleasure,” he said. “I would take safety. Now for sure you won’t get hit, before you probably had to pay more attention.”
But, he added, “There’s definitely an impediment with the net. It definitely changes the experience.”
The Washington Nationals were among other teams to announce this season they would extend their netting. It was in place at Nationals Park on Monday when the game against Colorado was rained out.
Commissioner Rob Manfred recently said extending protective netting down foul lines is a ballpark-to-ballpark decision because of differing configurations. MLB mandated before the 2018 season that netting extend to the far end of each dugout.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.