Braves will extend protective netting at SunTrust Park

The Braves said Monday that they will extend the protective netting at SunTrust Park to the foul poles to better safeguard fans.

The project should be completed by the end of September, “barring any complications,” the Braves said.

The Braves join 10 other MLB teams that have announced this summer plans to extend the netting to or near the foul poles in their stadiums to protect fans from injuries inflicted by line-drive foul balls.

“The extension will provide additional protection for our fans while preserving the overall game day experience as much as possible,” the Braves said in a statement.

Braves executives declined to comment on the matter Monday beyond the brief statement posted on the team’s official Twitter account.

The netting currently runs from behind home plate to the far end of both dugouts at SunTrust Park. The extension will place nets in front of all lower-level seating sections from behind the plate to the foul poles, according to the Braves.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Sunday on the issue of protective netting at MLB stadiums, noting that in recent years velocities of batted balls have increased, the stands have gotten closer to the playing field and fans have become increasingly distracted by their smartphones.

Braves manager Brian Snitker last week expressed his support for extended netting in baseball stadiums.

“I stopped watching balls go into the stands when I was a third-base coach because I did not want to turn around and see a young kid get hit,” Snitker said last week. “I did a couple of times, and it makes you sick to your stomach when you see that.”

Braves CEO Derek Schiller told The AJC last month that the organization was evaluating whether to extend the netting farther down the foul lines at SunTrust Park and how to do so.

As injuries caused by foul balls draw increased scrutiny around MLB, the Braves join the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Miami Marlins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals in announcing plans for extended netting. Those teams have said in the past two months that they will extend the nets in their stadiums to or near the outfield foul poles by the start of next season or have already done so.

“I applaud those teams that do that,” Snitker said last week.

The Braves increased the number of seats behind the protective netting when SunTrust Park opened in 2017. In the final season at Turner Field, the nets ran from behind home plate to the start of the dugouts. When SunTrust Park was built, a 33-foot-high screen was installed from behind the plate to the far end of the dugouts, stopping at the camera wells adjacent to the dugouts.

By the opening of the 2018 season, all MLB stadiums had extended their nets to the far ends of the dugouts. But no team had installed netting all the way to the foul poles until the White Sox last month became the first to do so.

The recent flurry of teams extending nets farther down the foul lines followed a much-publicized incident in May at a game between the Astros and Chicago Cubs in Houston. In seats just beyond Minute Maid Park’s protective netting, a 2-year-old girl suffered a skull fracture when struck by a hard-hit foul ball off the bat of the Cubs’ Albert Almora Jr.

The incident brought Almora to tears, and he told reporters after the game: “Right now, obviously, I want to put a net around the whole stadium.”