The injury to a young girl at a Houston Astros game at Minute Maid Park in 2019 prompted a surge of news and commentary about improving fan safety at major league ballparks. At a minimum, attending a baseball or softball game should just be fun & safe, legalities and liabilities aside. But of course, it’s not that simple.
At the professional and college level, the ball moves fast — really fast. Much has been written and studied about how quickly a batter must react to a 100 mph fastball. One study says a hitter only has 0.412 seconds to react. The speed of that same pitch leaving the bat is even faster – 110 mph or more. Thus, fans have even less time to react to a sharply hit line drive heading foul. Not to mention, since they’re not playing they’re easily distracted, making them ill-prepared for the unexpected.
This really is an important issue for ballfields at all levels of play. (Read a special Fan Safety message from our CEO) At Beacon Athletics, we have been installing backstop and protective netting solutions for our customers for decades and we are often asked for advice on fan safety and options for backstop netting. Our immediate answer is typically the same, “…it really depends on your ballpark’s situation, but here are five things you should always think about.”
- Protect the bleacher areas. It’s important to do whatever you can to protect all seating areas. Minimally, provide coverage for all spectator seating down the foul lines. In smaller fields, this may only be 2-3 sections of bleachers extending about 50 ft down the line. In larger facilities for professional and college teams, seating may continue from behind the dugouts to the outfield, in which case protective netting would ideally extend all the way to the foul poles. Keeping the view unobstructed will give your fans the best of both worlds.
- Remember adjacent activities. In an urban setting, there may be street traffic or a playground adjacent to the ballfield, in which case higher and longer netting is required. In a rural setting, you may have an adjacent cornfield where very little netting will be needed. Multi-field complexes in a clover-leaf design have become common, so the height of your netting becomes important for protect fans watching games on adjacent fields.
- Plan for tough weather conditions. Are you susceptible to hurricanes or unexpected spring snowstorms? You’ll need to consider protecting your investment to make sure you can long-term protect your fans. Investing in a winch system for easy raising and lowering can give you the speed and flexibility to quickly adapt to fast-approaching severe weather. Netting systems engineered to handle high winds or unexpected snow loads will save your netting assets, and save you repair costs.
- Aesthetics matter. A ballfield is a reflection on the community in which it resides. It can be a source of price, a place where people come together. Providing unobstructed views of the field within a safe viewing distance is ideal and has a major impact on the overall perception of your facility. There is nothing worse than being stuck in a bleacher seat behind a 12-inch steel pole.
- Consider all related costs. If poorly designed, the cost of installing a netting system can sometimes be more than the cost of materials (nets, cables, poles, etc.). We advise clients to to fully understand all costs that will be involved. For instance, a tie-back netting system may be more expensive when comparing the material cost, but it can also be considerably less expensive to install. Oftentimes, the tie-back system affords flexibility with how it can be integrated with the existing structures of a ballpark, making installation smoother and less costly than other systems. Make sure you are well informed and aware of all costs before making a decision on what is the best fit for our facility.
We are proud to be part of America’s pastime. Outfitting ballparks with innovative and appealing netting solutions is a big part of what we do, and it has become very important for protecting fans. Player safety through a well-maintained, more playable ballfield is only part of the story. Let us know if there’s anything we can do to help you in your efforts ensure friends & family are safe and worry-free at the ballpark. A protective netting solution may be more affordable than you think. As our parents and coaches used to tell us, “let’s have fun out there – and be safe.”
▶ We’re here to help with your fan safety solution. Give us a call at 608-824-1553 and ask for Collin, or email us at projects@BeaconAthletics.com.