CHICAGO (FOX 32/AP) - The Chicago White Sox officially began installing extended protective netting at Guaranteed Rate Field on Monday, becoming the first major league team to take that step since a couple of high-profile injuries this spring increased the focus on fan safety at ballparks.
The netting, once complete, will "run from the ends of each dugout down to the foul poles on each side of the field of play," according to a team press release.
The project will be completed by July 17, and the team will play its first game with the new netting on July 22 against the Miami Marlins.
Now that one team has jumped in front on the move, there likely will be more to come. It's hard to imagine a scenario where one major league team feels comfortable with less protection for fans than at another ballpark.
"Obviously that's a positive step in this sport," Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. said before their game against the crosstown White Sox in June. "I don't think anybody should go home with bumps or bruises or even worse. So whatever they got to do to take care of that, I'm glad they're taking procedures."
Following recommendations from Major League Baseball, by the start of the 2018 season, all 30 teams had expanded their protective netting to at least the far ends of the dugouts after several fans were injured by foul balls in 2017.
But a liner by Almora struck a young girl in Houston in May, and a woman was hit by a foul ball off the bat of White Sox slugger Eloy Jiménez in Chicago on June 10. Each of the incidents occurred in the stands beyond the dugout on the third base side, sparking several players to call for expanded netting.
Almora was visibly shaken after the liner against the Astros.
"I am a father and I am a fan of this game," he said. "I just don't want to see things like that ever happen again."
White Sox ace Lucas Giolito praised his team's decision to take the next step at its ballpark.
"For me, I think that in today's day and age you have a lot of young fans and guys are hitting the ball harder," he said. "I see the counter-arguments, like 'Well, don't sit there or just pay attention to the game.' Dude, like no matter how much you're paying attention to the game, if that thing is coming in 115 mph with tail, no matter if you have a glove this big, it could hit you right in the forehead.
"So for me being around baseball for so long, I think it's a smart move because it just keeps people safe. I hate seeing young kids get hit and having to go to the hospital. It just leaves a sick feeling in all our stomachs."