New city council bill could force Mets and Yankees to extend protective netting

A bat that slipped out of the hands of San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey hangs from the netting behind home plate. (AP)

Protective netting at ballparks has been a hot-button issue in the past few years. Fan injuries from scorched foul balls and flying bats aren’t uncommon, and they can be horrific. MLB issued recommendations for protective netting in December 2015, but didn’t mandate that teams make any changes.

New York City councilman Rafael Espinal Jr. doesn’t think that the New York Mets and the New York Yankees have enough protective netting at their stadiums, and he wants to change that. He’s introduced a bill that would require both the Mets and Yankees extend the netting at their stadiums.

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Councilman Espinal feels so strongly about this that he wrote a column in the New York Daily News explaining why he feels this action is necessary.

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.

Espinal’s recommendation for extending the netting is beyond what MLB recommended, which is 70 feet from behind home plate. He doesn’t feel that’s adequate, as it leaves many fans behind the dugouts (and beyond) exposed to flying bats and balls. His main point is that many ballpark injuries are preventable if only teams would put up more protective netting. It’s a simple step teams can take to protect their fans, and he doesn’t understand why so many, the Mets and Yankees included, have been slow to act.

According to John Harper of the New York Daily News, nine teams have added more netting that goes beyond MLB’s recommendations: the Philadelphia Phillies, Minnesota Twins, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, Washington Nationals, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates. That means 21 teams have either not extended their netting at all, or extended it to 70 feet per MLB recommendations. In those ballparks, the seating areas behind the dugouts are exposed.

A woman (C) who was hit with a foul ball during a Milwaukee Brewers vs. Colorado Rockies game is carried out by medical staff on Aug. 23, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP)

Some teams have added netting to be proactive and prevent injuries, but others have done it in response to a ballpark injury. The Phillies added netting behind both dugouts over the recent offseason after a bat struck a young girl, and the owner of that bat, shortstop Freddy Galvis, spoke out about the need for more netting.

It’s ridiculous that a team would need to experience an injury at its ballpark to realize the need for more protective netting, but at least they’re acting. Twenty-one teams still haven’t done so, and Harper thinks he knows why. From his column in the New York Daily News:

Yet the Yankees and Mets continue to resist. Though they won’t speak publicly about it, privately they’ve indicated their fans don’t want to sit behind netting behind the dugouts, in part because they want to be able to interact with players, who toss balls to them between innings.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told me in January that he gets more e-mails from fans protesting the extended-netting issue than on any other subject.

The Mets and Yankees may not want their fans to have to interact with the players through netting, but that means they’re putting them at risk, and there’s no getting around that. Which is why Espinal wants to make both teams act in the best interest of their fans. But he told Harper that he hopes they won’t need to pass the bill to get the Mets and Yankees to do so.

However, Espinal admits he’s hoping it doesn’t come to that. He’s hoping this action will put enough pressure on the Mets and the Yankees, as well as Major League Baseball, to spur action, perhaps come to agreement on adding more netting.

“I don’t want to have to legislate this,” Espinal said by phone. “I would rather have the teams take this opportunity to do it themselves.”

In reality, this is something that MLB should have mandated instead of leaving up to individual teams. Manfred may get more e-mails about extended netting than anything else, but according to Harper, fans don’t tend to complain once the netting is in.

Fans can’t be the ones to dictate safety. If given the chance, some fans would sit directly on the field, within yelling distance of their favorite (or least favorite) players. Fans, as a group, aren’t the most rational bunch. MLB needs to step in and require teams to extend protective netting. But until MLB does that, councilman Espinal is ready to take on the Mets and the Yankees and force them to protect their fans.

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at lizroscher@yahoo.com or follow her on twitter! Follow @lizroscher