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KEVIN LEININGER: Latest TinCaps safety feature is a net plus; Indiana Tech plans for future, too

Parkview Field extended protective netting to the ends of both dugouts in 2016 but will now install an additional 145 feet down each foul line. (News-Sentinel.com file photo by Kevin Leininger)
The new netting at Parkview Field will extend past the bullpens and nearly to each foul pole. (Courtesy image)
Mike Nutter
Indiana Tech's Zollner Engineering Building is set for expansion, and the campus is preparing for even more growth. (Courtesy image)
Brian E nglehart
Kevin Leininger

After a foul ball fractured Jennifer Myers’ face and took out eight teeth during a 2015 game at Parkview Field, the TinCaps responded admirably by adding 90 feet of protective netting down each foul line at a cost of $22,500. Two years later, Kathy Faulkner’s bloody scalp had to be stapled shut when she was beaned while sitting with her 32-year-old special-needs son just outside the newly expanded “safe” zone.

“If they don’t do something (to improve spectator safety), I’ll rent a billboard,” Faulkner told me at the time. “They need to get something done to protect kids.”

By the time the TinCaps open their home season April 13, Faulkner should get her wish in the form of an additional 143 feet of netting 35 feet tall down each foul line that will extend past the bullpens at a cost of about $30,000.

But will it be enough? Not even team President Mike Nutter can say for sure.

“The climate for this stuff has changed even if we/I are getting beat up on Twitter,” he said in an email. “We led most of the minor leagues when we expanded last time and we are proud to do so again. Injuries can still happen with balls beyond or over netting, but we are doing what we can to make Parkview Field a great place for fans of all ages.

“I don’t have any statistics that show the decrease in injuries (since the additional netting was added), but anecdotally we see the number of balls/bats that fly into the nets above the dugouts each year and breathe easier. Clearly the number is down . . . We don’t have further plans to expand at this time, but we are always willing to do what we feel is right.”

At the time of Myers’ 2015 injury, 1,750 fan injuries were being reported per season in Major League Baseball alone. I noted at the time that professional hockey had added nets behind the goals after a 13-year-old girl was killed at a Columbus Blue Jackets game in 2002, and suggested baseball should not wait for a similarly tragic incentive to do the right thing.

I was watching the Chicago Cubs play the Astros in Houston last May when a foul ball hit by Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. struck a young girl in the head. The girl was taken to the hospital; Almora put his hands on his head and fell to his knees, visibly distraught.

“Right now, obviously, I want to put a net around the whole stadium,” he said later.

By the start of the 2018 season, all 30 Major-League teams had expanded their netting to at least the far end of the dugouts — still less than what the TinCaps will do. But on the south side of Chicago, the White Sox announced not long after the Almora incident that they would extend netting all the way to each foul pole. Others teams pledged to do the same.

“It’s not one incident,” a White Sox executive explained. “There were just more and more incidents we were reading about. It’s just an idea whose time has come.”

With the latest upgrade, Parkview Field’s nets will extend almost to the foul poles. I suspect the time will come when the rest of professional baseball does at least as much. So why not do it before someone else is seriously injured? Nutter is right: Attending a sporting event carries risk, and fans should always be vigilant. But it’s also worth noting that taxpayers won’t foot the bill for the TinCaps’ new (or future) nets. The cost will be covered by revenues from Parkview Field naming rights, an assessment on each ticket sold and $50,000 the team provides for capital improvements every year.

It’s a small price to pay.

Good planning

The TinCaps aren’t the only local institution proactively planning for the future. So is Indiana Tech, which is preparing for anticipated growth despite a couple of recent setbacks, most notably the 2017 closure of its Law School.

The school at 1600 E. Washington Blvd. has asked the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals for permission to add 30,000 square feet to the Zollner Engineering Center. The BZA’s approval is needed because the building would exceed current height limits on the 37-acre campus, which currently is zoned for two-family and multi-family residential and general commercial use.

But because such approvals take time, cost money and can create uncertainty, Indiana Tech has also asked the Plan Commission to rezone the entire campus for professional office and personal services use, meaning the approval process for future projects should be much less costly and cumbersome.

Brian Englehart, vice president of marketing and communications, said there are no immediate plans for other projects but wants to be prepared should enrollment, currently at about 1,500 undergraduate students, continue to grow. The campus is landlocked, but space could be made available by moving some athletic facilities to the new Warrior Park athletic facility on the former site of the Donald Ross Golf Club on Tillman Road.

That option, ironically, is available only because Indiana Tech’s first choice for an off-campus athletic complex — Memorial Park — was rejected.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.