By Dan Bernstein —
670TheScore.com senior columnist
(670 The Score) It should’ve already been done, but Cubs fans will finally be considerably safer at Wrigley Field.
Owner Tom Ricketts and president of business operations Crane Kenney confirmed at this past weekend’s convention that the renovation of their ballpark would include a marked increase in the amount of netting that protects fans from foul balls and flying bats. The new plan includes even more than what we were told in September, when Kenney said the screens would be extended by 30 feet down each line.
That would’ve placed the edge of the nets around to the beginning of each dugout in the redesigned park for 2018, but Kenney said they will now reach all the way to the dugouts’ ends. The team had been studying the spray charts of Wrigley’s modern batted-ball history and monitoring similar moves by other concerned MLB teams in the wake of a series of alarming incidents.
Just last season alone, a young girl was hospitalized after being hit in the face by a 105-mph foul liner at Yankee Stadium, and a 6-year-old girl was struck in the head at Wrigley by a bat thrown into the stands by Addison Russell. She was taken to a nearby hospital and diagnosed with a concussion. Both victims recovered.
And all involved are lucky that these precautions aren’t the result of a death of a fan. The reason attendees of NHL games can sit above the glass comfortably is that in March 2002, a 13-year-old girl was hit in the head and killed by a deflected slap shot in Columbus, and the league acted swiftly to make sure nothing like that could ever happen again. And MLB is still moving too slowly in its own response to multiple close calls around baseball.
Russell himself is a clear and present danger, regularly losing control of his bat at the end of his swing and sending it flying into the seats, with even his Wrigley debut of 2015 remembered for his thrown bat bloodying a fan who was taken to a hospital on a stretcher. Russell once nearly decapitated the Diamondbacks’ mascot who was in the stands during a game in Arizona in 2016, he launched bats toward Javier Baez in the on-deck circle on consecutive pitches last May. Any team employing him would seem to have a greater responsibility to make sure all around are both aware and better protected.
Kenney hinted last season that there could be more nets added for 2018 than first planned, saying the goal was create a “safe environment” and telling reporters, “The netting will get pulled a little father toward the foul poles as a result of the dugouts moving.”
“Today phones and other things are distractions in the ballpark that didn’t exist (in the past), so adding the netting as we have recently and as we will again in the offseason makes sense,” he said in September. “Safety is number one for us. The players are in favor of pulling the nets. We’re going to do it to a degree. We’re studying it — even today we had a meeting about whether we should go even further than we plan on going.”
We know now that the Cubs apparently decided then to do just that, and it’s obviously the correct call.