It took the threat of legislation by a city councilman to make it happen, but the Mets did the right thing for their fans on Thursday, announcing that they’ll extend protective netting at Citi Field during the All-Star break that will make the ballpark safer for spectators.
And there are indications, according to a source close to the situation, the Yankees could wind up making a similar decision in the coming weeks.
Good for both teams, if indeed the Yankees follow suit, but the people who deserve the real praise are those who pushed for such action.
City Councilman Rafael Espinal announced last month he was introducing a bill that, if passed, would make it law that all ballparks in New York, major league and minor, would have to extend netting all the way to each foul pole.
Meanwhile, it was Andy Zlotnick, a New Yorker who suffered a serious eye injury several years ago at Yankee Stadium, who became an advocate for safety, pushing for media awareness and then political action from the likes of Espinal.
Espinal last month made a point of acknowledging Zlotnick for making him aware of the seriousness of the issue, which led to his decision to introduce the bill.
On Thursday Zlotnick, in turn, said he thought Espinal’s action made all the difference in getting the Mets to act.
“City Councilman Espinal deserves the accolades for putting pressure on the teams to do the right thing,’’ Zlotnick said by phone on Thursday night. “It feels good to see the Mets take a positive step toward making the ballpark safer for fans.
“I’ll be really happy when the Yankees and other teams follow what they’re doing. From the day I got hurt, I couldn’t do anything about what happened to me, but I was determined that others wouldn’t get hurt the way I did.”
Zlotnick has urged Major League Baseball to make it mandatory for all teams to add protective netting to at least the far ends of each dugout, but commissioner Rob Manfred has refused to take that step, leaving it to individual teams.
Manfred had repeatedly said he hears more from fans, via email, who are opposed to such netting, than he does on almost any issue in baseball.
Nevertheless, over the last two seasons nine teams took the step to add netting to the far ends of the dugout, and as the 10th team to do so, the Mets are taking the 30-foot netting to the far ends of the camera wells, another 30 feet or so beyond each dugout.
In addition, they are adding eight foot-high netting that extends farther down the first and third-base lines.
The Mets released a statement on their decision, saying, “the decision to proceed with these enhancements follows diligent exploration and study with MLB over the past two seasons.
“Fan safety continues to be our top priority and using this technology will offer state-of-the-art protection for our fans while minimizing the impact on their viewing experience.”
Espinal, meanwhile, praised the Mets for taking “this big step in extending protective netting at all of their ballparks. So many families and fans will be kept safe because of this bold action. The Mets have been engaged and willing to work with me throughout this process. They truly proved that they are willing to go above and beyond for their fans.”
As for the Yankees, they have repeatedly declined comment on the matter of the netting, but the Mets’ action surely puts more pressure on them to do something similar — especially after an incident this season in which Chris Carter’s broken bat flew into the stands, injuring a young boy.
Carter subsequently told me he was in favor of all teams adding netting, saying, “You never like to see anything like that happen. You worry about the fans when something like that happens.”
The boy was sitting seven rows behind the visiting dugout, an area that would be protected by the Mets’ new extended netting, as well as those of all other teams that have acted similarly.
Through a spokesman, the Yankees days later said the boy was doing well after being treated medically, but wouldn’t give more information, citing the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA.
In many cases it has taken serious injury to a fan or public criticism from a player involved, such as the Phillies’ Freddie Galvis last year, to get teams to take action.
That was part of Espinal’s motivation in introducing his bill, so it wouldn’t come to that in New York. As he said at the time, however, he was hoping the mere possibility of it becoming law would spur action from both the Mets and Yankees.
One down, one to go.