By Bruce Levine--
CHICAGO (CBS) -- The new experience of looking through extended protective netting in more of the best field-level seats of the ballpark will first occur for Cubs fans at spring training games in Mesa, Ariz. Sloan Park will have netting from dugout to dugout, going 70 feet from home plate. This new feature will be in place on March 4 when the Cubs play the first of their 15 home games in the Cactus League.
The decision to enhance fan safety here by the Cubs is consistent with the MLB's recommendation in December to further protect fans by extending the netting down the foul lines. Clubs aren't being forced to put up the protective netting in spring training, MLB chief communications officer Pat Courtney said, but the Cubs chose to do so anyway.
The view of the playing field will be different with more netting in place and could be a big adjustment for the fans paying the top prices for premium seats, such as those around the dugouts. MLB teams have all contacted companies to put up the mesh netting, and each club has experimented with the newest designs and technology to minimize a distorted view of the playing field.
In the past decade, fans' attention spans and the manner in which they follow the game in the ballpark has changed dramatically. Prior to the iPhone and social media era, fans were more in tune with the game from pitch to pitch. With apps to browse, friends to text, selfies to take, emails to check and fantasy leagues to follow, fans concentrate less on the hitter-pitcher dynamic, leaving them more susceptible to injury on fouls balls and bats flying into the stands. The consensus among owners now is to protect the fans who aren't in the pitch-by-pitch frame of mind.
Far too many scary injuries have occurred from foul balls in recent seasons, including at Boston's Fenway Park in July. If the new netting causes some minor viewing distortions, so be it, for it will also prevent some serious, permanent injuries.
"We will be using netting to protect our fans this season," Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney said on 670 The Score recently. "Our fans are more focused on their phones than they use to be and less in keeping score of the game. It is up to us to protect them a little more than we have. The league has given us guidelines, and we are going to comply with that. We will also comply in spring training."
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.
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