Fans of the Cleburne Railroaders will notice a recent addition at The Depot this week as the club installed new extended netting to improve fan safety.
The netting was installed prior to Cleburne’s current six-game homestand, which began Tuesday night with a 7-4 victory over the Chicago Dogs. The win was the Railroaders’ seventh consecutive victory, tying a club record as Cleburne took over sole possession of first place in the South Division.
The new netting extends down the first- and third-base lines to cover the berm seating, which is a popular area for small children to play during the game. Preexisting netting already covered the seating sections behind home plate and behind both dugouts.
“The Railroaders have always tried to give fans the best experience possible when they come to The Depot, and safety is a huge part of that,” Railroaders president John Junker said. “This new extended netting helps ensure that everyone can focus on enjoying the game safely, without compromising the great views that our ballpark has to offer.”
Junker said the extended netting was a top priority to protect the fans.
“Safety is always a priority, especially with kids,” Junker said. “That was really high on the priority list. We planned on doing that before the season started. We wanted to get it done, but with the rains and stuff the netting company got a little behind.”
Extended netting has been a major topic of discussion in MLB over the past several years, and those discussions greatly increased after a 2-year-old girl was hit by a foul ball at a Houston Astros game in May. She suffered a skull fracture, seizure and brain contusions.
A couple of weeks ago, another fan was struck in the head by a foul ball off the bat of Cody Bellinger at a Los Angeles Dodgers game and had to be taken to the hospital.
Those are only two recent incidents of fans being struck by foul balls at professional baseball games, which has raised the discussion for further extended protective nettings at all 30 MLB ballparks, and it has trickled down to minor league and independent league ballparks as well.
“We definitely don’t want kids to get hurt,” Junker said. “That’s unfortunate when that happens at baseball games. We definitely don’t want that to happen at The Depot. We’re just really thankful that we were able to get those up. We have an intimate stadium so it’s great that we have the nets up for safety.”
Bellinger is one of several MLB players who has recently said he’s in favor of extended netting.
“I would assume that would be a smart decision,” Bellinger said. “Just to protect those people in the front row who don’t have enough reaction time. I mean, I’m over at first base and have to be ready. They’re 10 feet over from me. Yeah, maybe, just to protect the people in the first few rows. That’s a scary situation.”
While the extended netting may appear to negate some of the fan-player interaction, Junker said the Railroaders remain committed to being accessible to the fans, before and after games.
“That’s one of the biggest things that the Railroaders are all about is the interaction with the fans and families,” Junker said. “[Tuesday] night, the kids came on the field after the game and ran the bases and the fans came on the field to have players sign autographs. Instead of reaching over the fence on the third-base line, they’re coming out onto the field and the players are interacting with them and signing autographs for them.
“Even before the games, I think our team is really good at interacting with the fans. John Rodriguez is always with the fans prior to the game. That stuff will definitely continue.”
The Railroaders had Nets of Texas install the new netting, a knotted Dyneema net that has been double UV-treated for superior strength and durability. Additionally, canopy netting has also been installed to cover the Kids Zone area beyond the right field fence.
Cleburne's series with the Dogs continues at 7:06 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday before the 'Roaders open a three-game series against Gary SouthShore at 7:06 p.m. Friday.