When the Braves open the playoffs Thursday, there will be a significant change at SunTrust Park: more protective netting to better safeguard fans from line-drive foul balls.
The Braves announced in August they would extend the netting to the foul poles by the end of September, and the installation was done while the team completed the regular season on the road last week.
Braves manager Brian Snitker will be among those happy to see it.
“I applaud the Braves for doing that,” Snitker said during the final regular-season home series. “I think it’s going to be a really good thing. As a former third-base coach, I’m glad for it, because that’s a sick feeling when you follow a ball into the stands and it hits somebody. I quit looking.”
» PLAYOFF GUIDE: How to navigate SunTrust Park
As injuries caused by high-velocity foul balls drew increased scrutiny around MLB, the Braves were among at least 13 teams that decided in the past three months to extend the netting in their stadiums to or near the foul poles.
“We’ve been looking into this for a while,” Braves president and CEO Derek Schiller said last month. “Every ballpark is different, so to do this in our environment it took a lot of work and a lot of different machinations to put this together.”
Previously, the netting at SunTrust Park ran from behind home plate to the far end of both dugouts.
Several fans interviewed in the lower-level seats along the left-field line during the Braves’ final regular-season homestand said they will welcome the protection of the expanded netting, especially for kids, although one fan expressed concerns about the effect on viewing the game and getting autographs.
“I personally like it without the net, but I think it’s an acceptable trade-off to make for the safety of all,” Braves fan Jim Wood said.
Based on what he has observed in other stadiums, Snitker predicted fans won’t find that the extended nets interfere with their view of the game.
“The way they make these things any more, once you’re sitting in a seat looking through them, you can’t even realize it (is there),” Snitker said. “I talked to (Braves field director) Ed Mangan about that and said it’s kind of amazing when you look through it you can’t even tell.”
The recent moves by teams to extend the netting farther down the lines followed a much-publicized incident in May at a game in Houston between the Astros and the Chicago Cubs. In seats just beyond Minute Maid Park’s protective net, a 2-year-old girl was struck by a foul ball that traveled 160 feet in 1.2 seconds, according to MLB measuring system Statcast, off the bat of the Cubs’ Albert Almora Jr. The girl suffered a skull fracture and other injuries.
The Chicago White Sox became the first team to install netting all the way to the foul poles, debuting it at a July 22 game. Other teams that have extended their stadiums’ netting this season or announced plans to do so by next season include the Braves, Astros, Arizona Diamondbacks, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals.
Players are generally big proponents of extended netting.
“In my 10 years in the big leagues, I’ve seen too many medical staff come running down the aisles, seen too many kids get hit,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said after learning of the Braves’ plan. “It’s long overdue. I’m so happy the Braves decided to do this.
“It’s for the fans’ safety. Now they can enjoy the game without getting hit by a 100-mile-an-hour line drive.”
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