PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Your ballpark experience will be a little different this summer and hopefully a lot safer.
West Michigan baseball teams including the West Michigan Whitecaps, Kalamazoo Growlers and Battle Creek Bombers are adding more netting around the dugouts to prevent foul balls from hitting spectators.
Up until now, netting was only around home plate. Starting in April, Fifth Third Ballpark just north of Grand Rapids — the home of the Whitecaps — will have 78 feet of netting added to each side, extending to the end of the dugouts. Similar changes will happen in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.
In the 20 years that Lew Chamberlin, CEO and managing partner of the Whitecaps, has been with the team, he has seen the game of baseball drastically change.
“Ball speed off of a bat can be an excess of a hundred miles an hour,” he said. “It’s a lot faster than it used to be. We are seeing more and more splintered and broken bats.”
He has also noticed fewer people paying attention.
“In the old days, everyone was holding on every pitch. But these days and especially in minor league baseball, which is a social occasion, people are talking to each other,” said Chamberlin.
Additionally he said, social media has more people looking at their phones more often.
ESPN reports the average reaction time to avoid a foul ball is less than a second. The Whitecaps said they have seen the number of foul ball and injuries increase over the years. Thankfully, none of those injuries have been serious, but Major League Baseball has seen some.
Last month, the MLB recommended teams have protective netting between dugouts after it was hit with a lawsuit. Last week, the Whitecaps decided to follow the recommendation.
Not everyone is happy. Some season ticket holders have complained.
“We understand that there will be people who have concerns but we know this is the right thing to do,” Chamberlin said. “Do we realize that some folks don’t want to be behind the net, absolutely, and that’s what we talked about, but ultimately we felt that our responsibility is the safety of the fan.”
Nets will be in place by opening day for all three West Michigan teams.
**Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the Battle Creek Bombers as the Battle Creek Boomers. The error has been fixed.