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2 senators want Major League Baseball to extend foul ball netting at all parks

Fans react to a foul ball during the third inning as the Chicago White Sox play host to the Kansas City Royals at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago on Friday, July 13, 2018.

COURTNEY PEDROZA/CHICAGO TRIBUNE/TNS

By NIELS LESNIEWSKI | CQ-Roll Call | Published: June 27, 2019

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Democratic Senators from Illinois Richard J. Durbin and Tammy Duckworth want Major League Baseball to expand netting to protect fans from foul balls across the entirety of the major leagues.

Duckworth, a veteran Army combat helicopter pilot, and Durbin have written to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred seeking an extension of netting at all ballparks. The letter, dated Thursday, follows announcements of extended netting by the Chicago White Sox and the Washington Nationals.

Nationals Park, the venue for Wednesday night’s Congressional Baseball Game, will get extended netting over the All-Star break.

“The Los Angeles Dodgers are conducting a study and plan to announce an extension plan in the coming weeks. Also, the Texas Rangers’ new stadium will have this important feature,” the senators wrote. “MLB and every team should expedite plans to extend netting to further protect fans. As several teams have demonstrated, these safety improvements don’t have to wait until next season.”

Durbin has a long history of interest in the national pastime, dating back to his time as a member of the House, when he spoke out on the House floor against AstroTurf fields, lights at Wrigley Field and in particular, the possibility of MLB adopting aluminum bats.

“I don’t know if it will take a constitutional amendment to keep the baseball traditions alive, but if we forsake the great Americana of broken-bat singles and pine tar, we certainly will have lost our way as a nation,” the current Senate minority whip said in that 1989 speech.

The more serious safety questions raised in the Duckworth and Durbin letter Thursday point to the danger of baseballs entering the stands, even when hit off wooden bats.

“Players are hitting balls with a velocity of more than 100 miles per hour onto the field and into the seated areas,” the senators wrote.

“We appreciate the efforts MLB and individual teams have taken so far for the safety of fans,” Durbin and Duckworth continued. “However, it is clear the current extended netting is not sufficient to protect fans from serious injury or death. We hope all teams will follow the leadership of the White Sox, Nationals, Dodgers, and Rangers in this matter.”

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