WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals will extend their protective netting during the All-Star break after recent injuries in baseball increased the focus on fan safety.
Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner announced the changes in a letter to fans on Thursday. Lerner says the club will replace the current protection with more transparent netting and extend it to just short of the foul poles in the left and right field corners.
Lerner referenced a 4-year-old girl who was struck by a line drive at an Astros-Cubs game last month.
Nationals manager Dave Martinez was fully supportive of the measure.
"I honestly think it's great, I really do," Martinez said Thursday before Washington hosted the Phillies. "I don't know if people realize how fast those balls come."
Nationals closer Sean Doolittle also liked the idea of making the stadium a safer place for the fans.
"As players, it's something that we've pushed for and advocated for years now," he said. "As you see exit velocities that have continued to increase and these new stadiums that are bringing fans closer and closer to the action, you're seeing balls go into the stands at really, really high speeds. It's really scary."
In Doolittle's view, warning the fans to watch out for batted balls is simply not enough.
"There's so many other things going around the stadium: advertisements, stuff on the video board, the mascots running up and down the seats, vendors," he said. "It's unrealistic to say, 'Oh, you should just pay attention to the game.' C'mon, man. We've created this experience for fans, we have an obligation to make sure they stay safe."
The fact that the screen might slightly hinder the view should not be an issue, Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman said.
"The most expensive seats are already behind nets and nobody complains about that," Zimmerman said. "The amount of incidents you've seen happen the last couple years, to me, (putting in the netting is) a no-brainer."
The Chicago White Sox said Tuesday they will extend the protective netting at Guaranteed Rate Field to the foul poles at some point this season.
At the urging of Major League Baseball, all 30 teams expanded their protective netting to at least the far ends of the dugouts at the start of the 2018 season. Several fans were injured by foul balls in 2017.
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