Phillies extending nets to protect against flying bats, foul balls

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 Fans reach for a foul ball hit by Philadelphia Phillies' Marlon Byrd during the third inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Tuesday, June 24, 2014, in Philadelphia. (Matt Slocum/AP Photo)

Fans reach for a foul ball hit by Philadelphia Phillies' Marlon Byrd during the third inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Tuesday, June 24, 2014, in Philadelphia. (Matt Slocum/AP Photo)

The Philadelphia Phillies are trying to make the ballpark a little safer for fans next season.

Following recommendations released this week from Major League Baseball, the team is extending the netting behind home plate to 70-feet in either direction. That brings the screen at Citizens Bank Park up to the near side of each dugout.

“Major League Baseball studied it, and I think it is a reasonable balance between protecting our fans and still having a close connection to the game,” said Mike Stiles, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Phillies.

The move comes after several high profile injuries suffered by fans in the past few years, the result of both hard hit foul balls and broken bats.

Stiles says the new netting will shield an estimated 400-500 additional seats on the lower level. Currently, 700 seats are behind the screen.

The team is looking to install a new style of netting to make sure fans still have a good view of the game.

“We are still exploring it with a manufacturer, but we expect and think there are new kinds of netting which are a little bit thinner, doesn’t have the same kinds of knots in the netting, which is more easily viewed through, and it is just as strong,” says Stiles.

A report last year from Bloomberg News found that roughly 1,750 fans are injured by foul balls each season. That’s slightly more than the number of batters hit by a pitch.

APphilliesfanscarlosruizx600The bat slips out of the hands of Philadelphia Phillies’ Carlos Ruiz during the 11th inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Sunday, June 14, 2015. The Pirates won in 11-innings, 1-0. The bat landed in the hands of a fan, who was uninjured. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

“Every night it seems there’s a stoppage in play because a fan was hit by a ball, and it is scary,” said Pete Simko, a Phillies season ticket holder with seats on the first base line.

He backs the MLB’s decision.

“After a couple of games, you probably won’t even realize that the net is there,” he said. “It will just be part of the regular scene of the baseball game.”

The Phillies are going to add more signage around the stadium reminding fans to pay attention during play. The club will also install more protective netting at its spring training facility.

A class action lawsuit filed this summer by fans of the Oakland A’s calls on the league to extend the screen from foul pole to foul pole.

In a statement announcing the recommendations, MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred said fans have the choice of sitting behind netting, or in other seats farther from the action.

“This recommendation attempts to balance the need for an adequate number of seating options with our desire to preserve the interactive pre-game and in-game fan experience that often centers around the dugouts, where fans can catch foul balls, see their favorite players up close and, if they are lucky, catch a tossed ball or other souvenir.”

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