Ballpark safety conversation heats up after child struck by foul ball

Hillcats, Red Sox both have netting which extends to the ends of the dugouts

By Taj Simmons - Reporter

LYNCHBURG, Va. - Southwest Virginia's minor league baseball teams are putting safety first after a scary incident in the pros.

The calls for more protective netting intensified after Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora struck a child with a foul ball. Both the Salem Red Sox and the Lynchburg Hillcats have extended their netting to the ends of the dugouts, which is what Major League Baseball suggests. The Hillcats' dugout netting also extends up to the height of the net behind the plate.

"My kids, when they were little, I made sure they always sat behind the net," said Hillcats President Chris Jones. "They just don't pay attention enough."

Hillcats pitching coach Joe Torres has many stories of people being hit by foul balls from his extensive professional baseball career.

"The worst was in A ball. I believe I was in the Midwest League," Torres said. "There was a line drive that hit a gentleman in the face and ripped his skin across."

The Hillcats installed their extended netting at Lynchburg City Stadium two years ago, and Jones says it's barely noticeable for fans except when a ball is headed their way.

"The first year, I heard a few grumblings here and there, but when you see that first line drive foul ball, you're thankful that it's there," Jones said.

The Red Sox and Hillcats have both committed to keeping up with Major League Baseball's suggested netting standards, and Torres says these changes can only be positive.

"It's always unfortunate whenever these things happen," Torres said. "We're starting to bring more awareness to that, and it's good for the fans and the safety of our game."

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