From analytics, to ballpark upgrades and installing protective netting, the Philadelphia Phillies are among the MLB teams "ahead of the curve" regarding the respective concepts.
The last of the three, however, is the most important — and it is especially timely, considering the recent occurrence at the home of the Houston Astros, Minute Maid Park. On Wednesday, Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora hit a flaring line drive into the lower seating bowl, striking a 4-year-old girl. The girl was taken to the hospital following the game; her condition remains unavailable.
The Astros released the following statement. Our thoughts are with the entire family. pic.twitter.com/f1VGVP1kiu— Houston Astros (@astros) May 30, 2019
The tragedy could have all been avoided had the Astros' safety netting been extended just past the edge of the dugout, where she and her father sat.
Had Almora hit the ball at Citizens Bank Park, the young fan would not have been struck, as the Phillies have already extended their netting past the dugout. Yet, the Phillies still appear to not be satisfied. According to Philly.com's David Murphy, are "constantly evaluating their options for ensuring fan safety," and are not ruling out extending netting throughout the lower seating bowl "at some point in the near future."
The #Phillies have extended their netting wayyyy past the dugouts, which also happens to protect where the sideline reporters sit. First stadium I’ve been to that has that. Awesome. pic.twitter.com/KhCqQEP5tf— Kelsey Wingert (@KelsWingert) May 21, 2018
Following the 2016 season, the Phillies were among the early "pioneers" to extend their protective netting, from the backstop to the edges of the dugouts. The Phillies' action was in response to then-shortstop Freddy Galvis similarly striking a young female fan in late August.
Like Almora now, Galvis was apologetic then, but also angry action had yet to be taken to protect fans: "What year is this? 2016? It's 2016 and fans keep getting hit by foul balls when you're supposed to have a net to protect the fans," Galvis said. "The fans give you the money, so you should protect them, right? We're worried about speeding up the game. Why don't you put up a net and protect all the fans?"
Following the 2017 season, the Phillies extended their netting even further — one section past the dugouts — and raised their nets from 8 feet to 12 feet high. “We just felt the game was changing a little bit,” Howard Smith, Phillies VP of Business Affairs, told Murphy on Thursday. “Quite frankly, every year it’s changing."
"You see guys throwing harder, the batters are stronger and faster, the ball is coming off the bat faster, and we felt that it was in our best interest and in our fans best interest to raise the nets.”
Smith, not ruling out that the Phillies could soon extend netting throughout the entire lower seating bowl, told Murphy that the organization is "constantly evaluating their options for ensuring fan safety." Smith added that fans "have already acclimated themselves" to protective netting's presence, "with minimal complaints."
After [Wednesday's] game, players in the Chicago clubhouse were quick to call on the sport to update its guidelines, which were revised two years ago, so that all MLB teams entered the 2018 season with netting that extended to at least the edge of each dugout. In a statement issued Thursday morning, MLB said: “Clubs have significantly expanded netting and their inventory of protected seats in recent years. With last night’s event in mind, we will continue our efforts on this important issue.”
Yet, the emotions of a minority faction can sometimes obscure the logistical and pragmatic realities of legislating change. ...
Compared to the other line items in a baseball team’s operating budget, the cost is so minimal that you can measure it in hot dogs fired from a hydraulic cannon. Thoughts and prayers are a viable response to things you cannot control. This is not one of those things.
At the end of the day, fan safety means so much more than a minimally obstructed view. The Phillies were among the first teams to extend netting, and could likewise be among the first to feature netting throughout the entire lower bowl to make sure no such occurrence, like the recent one in Houston, ever takes place again at Citizens Bank Park.