New Wichita stadium will have netting out to foul poles to reduce foul-ball hazard

Wichita’s new baseball stadium will be built with screening all the way down the baselines to protect fans from dangerous line-drive foul balls, Mayor Jeff Longwell said.

“Ours will be one of the first stadiums designed and built that will have netting from foul pole to foul pole,” Longwell said.

The idea is to make the baseball experience safer for all fans, not just those in the prime seats behind home plate, he said.

Wichita will work the pole-to-pole netting into the design of the new stadium under construction at the site of the former Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.

Starting in April, the yet-to-be-named ball park will be the new home of the Triple-A minor league team now known as the New Orleans Baby Cakes.

The dangers of foul balls have been long known and teams even print warnings and disclaimer of liability on the backs of the tickets.

But fan safety came to the forefront in May when Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Alamora, Jr. ripped a foul ball into the stands that struck a 2-year-old girl in the head. She suffered a fractured skull and a seizure, while Alamora dropped to his knees and cried when he realized what had happened.

Since then several Major League Baseball clubs — including the Kansas City Royals — have announced plans to retrofit their stadiums and extend protective screening farther into the outfield.

With the likelihood high that all teams will eventually extend their netting, it made sense to design it into Wichita’s new ball park, Longwell said.

Triple-A ball is considered one step below the major leagues and players often move back and forth between the farm team and the parent club.

And players at that level can generally belt foul balls into the stands at speeds of 100 mph and up, too fast for the average spectator to get out of the way, Longwell said.

While some might worry that will reduce the number of souvenir balls that fly into the stands, Longwell said there will be opportunities to make those catches.

Unlike Lawrence Dumont, there will be outfield bleachers where people can sit to hawk home-run balls.

Plus, the outfield netting will be short enough that pop fouls will still drop into the stands, “but they’re not going to be coming at you at 100 mph,” Longwell said.

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Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.