By Michael Kinney
After more than a year away from the diamond, minor league baseball will make its return to Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma City Dodgers will kick off their season Thursday at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
Due to COVID-19 protocols, the game has a maximum of 50 percent capacity allowed.
But for those who do make it inside, they will notice something new. The protective netting has been extended down both foul lines in order to cover a majority of seats in the lower seating bowl.
According to Dodgers President and General Manager Michael Byrnes, the new netting provides added protection to the fans.
“The new netting is really the best of both worlds,” said Byrnes. “Not only does it allow us to provide a safer fan experience at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, but it will also allow us in future seasons to maintain the fan-player interaction which is a hallmark of Minor League Baseball.”
The installment, which was done by West Coast Netting, was originally scheduled to be done last season but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now as fans make their way back to the ballpark for the first time since September 2019, the Dodgers organization wants to make sure the experience is safer for them.
“Being part of, or attending a baseball game, it’s a really social experience. And as we watch, whether it’s families with small kids, that can easily be distracted and look away from the game, or there could be large groups that are coming out to have some sort of celebration, they’re really out here having a social experience,” Byrnes said. “So the crack of the bat, that line drive can be really quick to get into the seating area. And it’s just been a determination both locally and across the game that providing that netting is really important. We focus so much on having families come out to the ballpark. So in order to have that area of emphasis and really want families to be here, we need to provide that extra safety.”
Previously, the protective netting only covered sections 106 to 114. Basically two-thirds down the line.
There has been talk around Major League Baseball for years about the need for more protective measures after several high-profile incidents of fans being hit by foul balls. That has included a grandmother celebrating her 79th birthday in L.A. who died after being hit in the head by a foul ball.
A 2019 study by NBC News found that more than 800 fans had been injured by baseballs while attending a MLB game during the last eight seasons. But many analysts believe that number is much higher.
Teams across the major and minor leagues are expected to install protective netting at some point.
“How ballparks are implementing it may be a little bit different from one to the next, but the best practice that’s being shared from Major League Baseball was to consider extending them much further down the baseline,” Byrnes said. “I’m not exactly sure how every ballpark in terms of what distance they’ve gone, but by and large ballparks are taking them down as far as they can down the baselines, even out to the foul poles.”
One of the long-standing critiques from fans about the possibility of teams adding protective netting has been it will interfere with how they watch the game. But according to Byrnes, the obstruction will be minimal.
“The interesting thing related to these nets is there’s really one or two of these primary manufacturers that can do it and they do it really well. So the group, West Coast Netting, that installed here, they’ve got their best, state-of-the-art most modern type of netting,” Byrnes said. “And they’re doing this at Dodger Stadium in LA. They’re doing this at spring training locations across all kinds of major league stadiums. So they’ve got a material that’s going to really provide a good experience and easy to see through, not too obstructive. And I think there may be some that it might take a little bit to get used to, but I think over time, it’s going to be such a common practice. That’s just what people will be used to.”
Copy & Photos by Michael Kinney