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Nothing but Net

By David A. F. Sweet

Back in the days before U.S. Cellular Park became Guaranteed Rate Field, my two sons, a friend of theirs and I watched the Chicago White Sox take on a forgotten opponent. Our seats were perhaps five rows from the home team’s on-deck circle — but as no one was sitting in the front row, given the White Sox’ hapless nature, we moved there.

During one at-bat, I was chatting with one of my sons, only to turn and see a foul ball whiz perhaps a foot over our heads and between us. We watched every pitch intently after that.

Those seats today are protected by netting, which makes sense given they are perhaps 30 feet from home plate. But what I don’t understand is the White Sox, the Nationals and other teams in the near future stretching this protection down to the foul poles.

No doubt a hard-struck baseball or errantly tossed bat can injure and even kill. Even a thrown baseball is dangerous, as anyone who’s seen the evolution of the batting helmet can attest. But is someone 350 feet away from a struck ball really in danger if that person is a fan who’s supposed to be watching a game?

If viewing were improved by netting, it would be extended across all sports facilities. Problem is, no one likes to watch anything through a net, whether it be an NFL field goal (the net exists there so fans don’t grab footballs as keepsakes), a mountain or a computer screen. Not only that, nets impede the interaction between players and spectators — along with the ability to grab foul balls, which is the dream of most baseball fans. And though I noted that the protective netting where we once sat makes sense, had it existed a few years ago we wouldn’t have gotten three balls from the White Sox catcher, who handed them to my kids and their friend after third-out strikeouts.

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