Posted by: Bob Gorman | May 10, 2017

New York City Council Member Introduces Legislation that Would Require the Extension of Netting to the Foul Poles

Rafael Espinal, Jr, a member of the New York City Council, has introduced legislation that would require the Yankees and Mets to extend their existing protective netting to the foul poles in Yankee Stadium and Citi Field.  This law would be a major breakthrough for fan safety if it passes the New York City Council and would set a template for other MLB and MiLB cities to follow.  Here is the statement Council Member Espinal, Jr., released to the press.  Mr. Espinal, Jr., represents the 37th Council District in Brooklyn and serves as Chair of the Committee on Consumer Affairs:

New Yorkers love baseball, and we especially love our Mets and Yankees. But our hometown teams should do more to reciprocate that love to their fans when it comes to public safety. We have all heard the horror stories of fans seriously injured at professional baseball games. Every year approximately 1,750 fans are injured by foul balls and broken bats. Not only are these injuries preventable, but the MLB, Yankees and Mets have been slow to implement a simple solution that would prevent families’ fun-filled ballpark outings from turning into nightmares.

This past year several fans lost their eyesight at ballgames. Think about that. They went to a baseball game and they left blind in one eye. All across America, fans, including children and the elderly, were hospitalized and had major surgery for brain and head trauma, concussions, bleeding on the brain, skull fractures, and eye damage, among many other permanent injuries.

In 2011 a New Yorker named Andy Zlotnick had major reconstructive eye and face surgery after getting hit by a foul ball in Yankee Stadium. Just days after Zlotnick was injured, a 12-year-old boy named Shlomo Shalomoff was hospitalized after getting slammed in the face by a foul ball at Citi Field. Both sat in right field seats — well past the first-base dugout.

MLB currently does not require protective netting for its ballparks. Instead, they leave fan safety decisions to the individual teams. MLB only “recommends” that teams install up to 70 feet of netting from behind home plate to the beginning of the dugouts. Consequently, just eight of the 30 major league teams have proactively added safety netting beyond MLB’s recommendation — the Yankees and Mets should be among them. While the players and coaches have protection in the dugouts, the fans sitting just a few feet behind them are left vulnerable.

Cost-effective and non-obstructive netting solutions already exist. The Texas Rangers’ retractable netting system can be raised and lowered to promote fan-player intimacy. Vertical netting would shield the scorching line drives from smashing into a fan’s skull, but allow pop-ups to be caught by fans sitting behind the nets. The new netting technology is ultra-thin, hi-tech fiber that is much less obtrusive than netting in the past.

Adding more protective netting will not impair the intimacy or fan experience. It will not reduce attendance or lead to lost season ticket holders. The Texas Rangers and Minnesota Twins added netting behind the dugouts last season and had no season-ticket cancellations. While some old time fans may no doubt grumble, baseball will be made better by becoming safer.

Many prominent players, coaches and managers have endorsed adding safety netting, including Yankees manager Joe Girardi, Twins manager Paul Molitor, Justin Verlander, Chipper Jones, and Cubs manager Joe Maddon, among others.

Perhaps most outspoken this past season was Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis, who struck a young girl in the face with a line drive foul ball in August at Citizen’s Bank Park. Galvis felt terrible and urged MLB to extend netting.

“It’s 2016 and fans keep getting hit by foul balls when you’re supposed to have a net to protect the fans. Why don’t you put up a net and protect all the fans? It’s something you have to put before everything. Safety first. Safety.”

We New Yorkers are loyal to our hometown teams. We support the Yankees and Mets through good seasons and bad, we march with them in victory and suffer with them in defeat. Our teams should reciprocate that loyalty by prioritizing fan safety at all of their NYC stadiums. Unfortunately, today’s ballparks in our city are not safe enough and we must ensure this obligation is met.

That is why I am introducing legislation in the City Council that will require the city’s major and minor league ballparks to install additional protective netting from home plate to the foul poles as a matter of public safety. This legislation will ensure that baseball fans get protection from the dangers they face at our professional ballparks. Businesses in NYC that fail safety inspections must make their establishment safe for the public right away. Baseball should be no different.

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