A rendering shows the minor league ballpark being built in Wichita, Kan., where protective netting may stretch to the foul poles. (Courtesy DLR Group)
Designer DLR Group ready with changes after foul ball strikes girl at Astros game
Developers of a new Triple-A ballpark in Wichita could expand protecting netting to the outfield foul poles after a young girl was hospitalized after being struck by a foul ball at a Houston Astros game.
DLR Group, design consultant for the $75 million facility opening in April, has made preliminary changes to its blueprints after project officials sent the firm an email hours after the May 29 incident at Minute Maid Park.
“They’re thinking of revisiting it,” said Tom Tingle, DLR Group’s client leader in Kansas City.
To this point, no decision has been made to extend netting, Tingle said,. The ballpark development team is expected to address the issue at its next meeting Wednesday in Wichita, Tingle said.
The Pacific Coast League’s New Orleans Baby Cakes will relocate to Wichita after this season to play in the 10,000-capacity venue.
As it stands now, protective netting at the new ballpark extends halfway down the foul line — about 80 feet — from the end of the dugout to the outfield fence, said Don Barnum, a principal at DLR Group.
The extended netting already goes well beyond that of most Major League Baseball stadiums, Tingle said.
In most big league parks, netting does not extend past the dugouts. The same is true for some Pacific Coast League teams, according to a quick survey DLR Group conducted after the Houston incident.
In Wichita, the cost to make the adjustment is insignificant relative to the project budget, Tingle said. There would be additional expenses for installing more cables to hold the netting in place. Costs have not been determined, he said.
MLB Commissioner Rob Mandred said Tuesday that he does not expect big league teams to make adjustments with protective netting this season because of structural issues at individual parks, as reported by multiple news outlets.
All 30 teams extended protective netting around home plate before the 2018 season but those dimensions vary depending on the stadium. Those decisions are up to individual teams, USA Today reported.
In the minors, some teams have extended netting on their own, going past the dugouts, including the Greenville (S.C.) Drive, a Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox and a DLR Group client.
As part of upgrading Fluor Field, the team installed additional netting down the foul lines and also put up a net to protect fans sitting on the outfield berm, said Bob Carlson, principal and design leader with DLR Group.
“People have been thinking about it before all this happened,” Carlson said.
Said Barnum: “The girl is OK and that wasn’t necessarily a trigger in itself, but it’s just one more thing. Maybe it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back to get everybody to go down that road.”