Protective netting will be expanded at SunTrust Park

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Protective netting will be expanded at SunTrust Park

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Isaza, Rudolf (CMG-Atlanta)
This rendering shows the areas of seats that will be protected by netting in the Braves’ new stadium, SunTrust Park. The netting won’t actually be green, which is for illustrative purposes only in the rendering. (Atlanta Braves)

Fans will get expanded protection from line-drive foul balls at the Atlanta Braves’ new stadium.

Protective netting will extend from behind home plate to the far end of both dugouts at SunTrust Park, Braves president of business Derek Schiller said. At Turner Field, the Braves’ former home, the screen extended only to the start of the dugouts.

The change comes amid increased attention on injuries to fans at Major League Baseball games, including Braves games, and as new stadiums, such as SunTrust Park, place seats even closer to the action.

An estimated 1,750 spectators at MLB games — 23.7 fans per every 1 million in attendance — are injured annually by batted balls, mostly foul balls, according to a 2014 analysis by Bloomberg News. The analysis said the typical injury is minor, such as a bruised hand or bloodied lip, but “a small number are more serious, and those victims tend to be children.”

A 6-year-old girl’s skull was shattered when she was struck by a foul ball behind the visiting team’s dugout at Turner Field in 2010. A lawsuit against the Braves and MLB stemming from that injury is still pending.

Fans also were seriously injured in 2015 by foul balls at Milwaukee’s Miller Park and Detroit’s Comerica Park and by a broken bat at Boston’s Fenway Park.

Although longer, SunTrust Park’s protective netting won’t be quite as high as Turner Field’s. The screen will be 31 ½ feet high at the new stadium, compared to 35 feet high at the former stadium. Schiller attributed that difference to the geometry of SunTrust Park, which has almost 10,000 fewer seats, and where the cables that hold up the screen will be secured to stadium structures.

The netting, which hasn’t yet been installed, will end at the start of the camera wells adjacent to the far end of both dugouts.

From directly behind home plate, the screen will extend 145 feet down the third-base line and 149 feet down the first-base line, according to Braves field director Ed Mangan.

That exceeds the recommendation made before last season by MLB, which advised — but didn’t mandate — that teams have netting in place to protect fans in field-level seats within 70 feet of home plate.

“When you’re designing a new ballpark, you can do these things from the very ground up,” Schiller said. “(The end of the dugouts) became a natural place to locate the net. … When you think about having more fans behind the net, that’s certainly something that is a benefit of this.

“You want to try to have an environment where you have what you believe to be the appropriate level of coverage of netting for how your ballpark is designed. And we believe that this net gives us the appropriate level of coverage for the most number of seats for this particular ballpark.”

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Schiller said innovations have made protective screens “thinner but in fact stronger,” meaning “we’re getting the ability to cover the most number of seats with the least view issues as possible.”

For their final season at Turner Field, the Braves increased the height of the outer-wing netting, which extended to both dugouts, from 10 feet to 35 feet, matching the height of the screen behind the plate.

The dugouts are positioned farther down the base lines at SunTrust Park than at Turner Field, further increasing the expanse of screened seats, although the dugouts themselves are not quite as long.

Separately, the Gwinnett Braves minor-league team announced last week that it has installed expanded protective netting at its home stadium, Coolray Field. Gwinnett’s new netting is 30 feet high and, as will be the case at SunTrust Park, extends to the end of both dugouts.

“There is no greater priority than the safety of our fans,” Gwinnett Braves general manager North Johnson said in a news release last week. “Coolray Field’s new protective netting will provide a safer atmosphere to watch the game without sacrificing the close-up views of the players on the field that fans enjoy.”

The protective screens for both stadiums are provided by the same company, Netting Professionals of Fernandina Beach, Fla.

The Braves’ regular-season opener at SunTrust Park is April 14 against San Diego.

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