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With added safety in mind and a prod from Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, the Dayton Dragons announced Wednesday that protective netting would cover all lower-level seating at Fifth Third Field beginning next season.
“We’ve decided to extend a safety netting in a pretty dramatic fashion,” Bob Murphy, the team’s president and general manager, said during a news conference at the downtown stadium.
A Class A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, the Dragons always have had lower-level netting between the dugouts at Fifth Third, covering sections 108-111. Starting next season, netting will blanket the entire lower level (sections 104-116). Also, the height will be raised five feet to better protect upper-level club seating and luxury boxes.
The boost in stadium spectator protection coincides with an address from Manfred during the 2015 winter baseball meetings in which he said all stadiums should have protective netting within 70 feet of home plate.
Murphy said seating behind home plate is a prime area that’s coveted by fans who feel more protected there from foul balls. A Boston Globe report said an average of 73 percent of foul balls land in the stands of MLB ballparks, and estimated the number landing in Fenway Park at 30 percent. A 2014 Bloomberg report estimated that 1,750 fans annually are struck by batted balls in major-league stadiums.
Fan safety — and stadium liability — are major concerns at all levels of professional baseball.
“You will see foul balls and people will be struck,” Murphy said. “It’s incumbent on us that it’s as safe an environment as it could possibly be.”
The new netting will be thinner and have a smaller weave than existing netting. It also can be colored to further enhance a stealthiness.
Dragons executive vice president Eric Deutsch oversaw the project that began early this year.
“I’ve learned a lot more about netting than I thought I would,” he said. “In 17 years of baseball, we’ve seen the dynamics of this ballpark and where foul balls go. It’ll almost have an invisibility to it. After you sit there you might not even know it’s there.”
The Dragons made their debut at Fifth Third Field in 2000. The stadium has been the centerpiece of multiple efforts to revitalize downtown Dayton. It’s been a hit with fans, too. With a capacity of 9,000-plus, Fifth Third Field owns the longest sellout streak in professional sports: 1,179, which is every home game the Dragons have played.
“I believe this is how netting in baseball stands will be seen in the future,” Murphy said. “Commonplace and completely aesthetic.”