Expanded nets a good idea for Bowman Field

Bowman Field netting protects Grahm family members from left, Jove, Thomas, and Tobi during a Crosscutters game.

How about a round of applause for the Williamsport Crosscutters and the City of Williamsport for taking the well-being of its fans into account.

Cutters Vice President Gabe Sinicropi said following Wednesday’s informational meeting regarding new seating at Bowman Field that extended netting to protect fans “was a matter of when, not if.” He even went as far as to point out the netting could be in place prior to the Cutters’ home opener on June 20 against the State College Spikes.

This is the perfect time to take the next step to protect the fans taking in Cutters games at Bowman Field. Since buying the team in 2014, principal owner Peter Freund has worked diligently with the city to find money to make improvements to the 90-year old stadium and improve the fan experience.

What better way to improve the fan experience than to take away the fear of being hit by a screaming line drive into the seats? The Cutters are being proactive in this matter. Although Major League Baseball and its commissioner Rob Manfred have, in recent years, altered recommendations to teams to extend netting, there has been no mandate to do so.

This move, when it comes to fruition, is a sign the Cutters are concerned about the well-being of their fans. As they should be. And this move should be both applauded and celebrated. Foul balls scream into the lower seating area at Bowman Field like red-stitched projectiles consistently throughout the team’s 38-game home schedule.

“We were lucky this year to not have any serious injuries from foul balls,” Cutters general manager Doug Estes told the crowd at Wednesday’s informational meeting at the Trade and Transit Centre II. “But in the past we’ve had some head injuries. We’ve had some gruesome head injuries.”

“We’re working on getting ahead of the game,” Sinicropi told the crowd. “There’s a possibility that the next game you go to netting will be the whole way across.”

Currently, recommendations from Major League Baseball are that netting behind homeplate should extend 70 feet from home plate up each baseline, according to Estes. The netting at Bowman Field extends just 62 feet up each baseline to the home and visiting on-deck circle, Estes said. When the new netting is eventually installed, it will extend the entire length of the seating bowl at Bowman Field, from dugout to dugout.

Sadly, this isn’t a move which has been made mandatory at every level of professional baseball just yet. But teams are beginning to find the value in extending the netting. State College and Penn State, in recent years, has extended the netting at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park from first base to third base.

The Philadelphia Phillies, the parent club of the Crosscutters, extended the netting at Citizens Bank Park following the 2015 season to the inside edge of each dugout. They also extended the netting at their spring training home, Bright House Field, in Clearwater, Fla.

During a press conference at the Little League World Series in August, Manfred said he doesn’t think there needs to be mandatory netting rules for Major League Baseball teams. He said the fans should be free to choose how they wish to view the games, and it’s more important to educate fans on the risks of sitting unprotected by a net.

“It is easy to understand the safety issue, and we do understand it,” Manfred said in August. “Interestingly, however, if I get 20 phone calls on this subject, 18 of them are from people who say I don’t want to sit behind a net. There is a balance here and people are entitled to make a judgment as to how they want to view games. Now matter how far our recommendation goes regarding netting, it’s our job to educate fans and make sure they’re aware of the risks and let them decide whether they want to sit behind a net or not.”

Estes explained Wednesday he’s aware of the arguments against netting around the entire seating area, and he understands there are a faction of fans who don’t want to look through a net to watch a game. But he explained one of the possibilities for the extended netting would be a stronger netting which is less distracting to the fans.

This new type of netting is as thin as fishing line, as opposed to the black netting Bowman Field currently has which is about as thick as twine. Estes and Sinicropi cautioned the fishing line netting is merely an option at this point, and cost could be an issue, as the extra netting would be funded with money left over from converting the bleacher seating at Bowman Field to individual reserved seating.

“The extended netting could be maybe 20 feet high instead of extending all the way to the roof like the current netting does,” Estes said. “I know there’s people who have said they’re worried about getting foul balls for kids. But getting foul balls is secondary to the safety of the fans.”

Mitch Rupert can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email mrupert@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/Mitch_Rupert.