NEW YORK — The New York Yankees said on Wednesday that they would extend protective netting far down the foul lines next season at Yankee Stadium in the hopes of preventing fans from being struck by hard-hit foul balls.
While Major League Baseball teams have moved incrementally in the last two years to add more protective netting to prevent severe injuries, the Yankees had resisted calls to do so — until September, when a toddler was severely injured when she was hit in the head by a line drive behind the third-base dugout at Yankee Stadium.
The incident, which occurred Sept. 20, left players for the Yankees and the visiting Minnesota Twins shaken, and drew widespread attention. It prompted at least five other teams to make announcements that they would add netting. The Yankees joined them on the final day of the regular season.
On Wednesday came the details: nets that will extend 9 feet above the dugout roofs and 5 1/2 feet above the short walls that extend down the foul lines.
The netting will provide increased protection for fans who are sitting inside the so-called moat that surrounds the highest priced seats, extending to the point where the wall makes a slight turn and hugs the foul lines — about where ball boys have traditionally sat. Once at that point, the walls increase in height before they meet the outfield wall.
Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, has encouraged teams to extend netting to the far end of the dugouts — the Minnesota Twins were the first to do so, in 2016 — but has refrained from mandating the added protection. At the end of last season, only 10 teams had extended protective netting that far, including the New York Mets, who installed theirs at the All-Star break last season.
The Yankees are going far beyond Manfred’s suggestion, but perhaps no fans need it like the ones at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees feature a power-packed lineup built around towering sluggers: Aaron Judge and the newly acquired Giancarlo Stanton, who between them registered the eight hardest hit balls in baseball last season — each of them topping 120 mph.
The Yankees’ plan for more netting was praised by Geoffrey Jacobson, the father of the young girl who was struck by the line drive in September. He commended the team for going beyond Manfred’s guidelines and called for the rest of Major League Baseball to follow suit.
“It’s needed, and I’m really happy that the Yankees did the right thing,” Jacobson said.
He said his daughter, who turned 2 in October, had largely recovered from her injuries, which included fractures of her orbital bone and nose as well as bleeding on her brain. She wears an eye patch for five hours a day on her good eye to help strengthen the eyelid and muscles on the injured eye.
Councilman Rafael L. Espinal Jr., who introduced legislation in May that would have required all major league and minor league parks in New York City to extend protective netting, also applauded the Yankees and the Mets for their decisions.
“So many families will be kept safe because of this,” Espinal said in a statement. “I hope all teams nationwide will make the right call.”
In the Yankees’ announcement, though, they were not just heeding a call for safety. They also appealed to another constituency: the customers in those expensive seats, who the team says have objected to increased netting because it will deprive them of intimacy.
The nets behind the dugout will be retractable by up to three feet so that before games fans can still seek autographs or a baseball from players. The nets will then be fastened once the game starts. Minute Maid Park in Houston is among the ballparks that have a similar feature.
The Yankees said the netting would be made from a knotless, synthetic material — the same used behind home plate last season — and be field green, so as to better blend into the playing field. The Yankees said the netting would be installed next month and be ready for the home opener on April 2. A similar system is being installed at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida, and will be ready for the start of spring training on Feb. 13.