Astros park, where ball hit child, to extend nets

The Houston Astros will become the latest team to extend the safety netting at their ballpark, announcing Thursday that they will make changes before an Aug. 19 homestand.

An incident at Minute Maid Park on May 29 had spotlighted the issue of expanding safety netting at ballparks. A 2-year-old girl was struck by a foul ball during a game, suffering a skull fracture and remaining in the hospital for several days.

The ball that hit the 2-year-old came off the bat of Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr., who was distraught during the game. Many players called for expanded netting after the incident, and several subsequent incidents of fans being hit by foul balls have further highlighted the issue.

The Chicago White Sox and Washington Nationals have already debuted expanded netting, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays have announced that they will also expand their netting. The Detroit Tigers made changes in 2018 to extend their safety netting.

“Fan experience is always a top priority for the Astros,” the team said in a statement. “These changes will improve the fan’s experience and increase the number of seats behind protective netting. Fans will continue to have the option to sit in areas without netting.”

The Astros’ current netting will be replaced with knotless netting, which is easier to see through than the traditional knotted netting.

Following recommendations from MLB, 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.

After the Houston incident, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said he did not expect teams to make changes to the netting around ballparks during the season, but said he expected conversations to continue about whether the netting should be extended.

Since 1913, every ticket to a major league game has included a disclaimer saying the holder of the ticket assumes all the risks inherent to the game. Called the “Baseball Rule,” it has made it nearly impossible for fans injured at games to successfully sue teams or MLB.

The family of the 2-year-old retained an attorney to advise about the incident, but no lawsuit has been filed.

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