Because the Yankees take batting practice first before each game, usually before the gates have been opened to fans, there are often few, if any, people behind those temporary screens while Aaron Judge and his teammates are taking their swings.
The Yankees’ opponents usually take batting practice after the gates have opened and fans start filtering in. On the field, there are even more screens as the Yankees and whichever team they are playing — on Tuesday night it was the Minnesota Twins in the wild-card playoff game — go through their various drills.
The hitters are inside the portable cage at home plate. The batting practice pitcher throws from behind an L-shaped screen on the mound. There are screens in front of first and second base, in shallow center field and along the outfield baselines.
And on Tuesday night, with a large news media presence for a postseason contest, there were also temporary screens set up beforehand to protect the television crews who had set up on the field for pregame interviews.
Despite all those precautions, players occasionally do get hit by balls when they’re on the field before a game. This season, Yankees pitchers Jordan Montgomery and Luis Severino were struck by batting practice line drives. And in 2010, Alex Rodriguez was hit on the shin by a line drive hit by a teammate while Rodriguez was distracted as he waved to a broadcaster on the sidelines.
On Tuesday night, the temporary netting was up as the Yankees took batting practice before the gates opened at 6 p.m. for a game scheduled to start about two hours later.
After the gates did open, and the Twins began taking batting practice, some of the fans who began filtering in headed to the outfield seats in hopes of catching a ball hit over the fence. Out there, of course, there were no screens.
And finally, shortly before 6:30 p.m., Commissioner Rob Manfred came onto the field near the Yankees’ dugout to speak with reporters. He was asked several questions about the issue of protective netting, which has taken on a larger profile after a young girl at Yankee Stadium was hit in the face by a line drive while sitting in seats behind the third-base dugout.
Since that incident, Manfred has called for baseball to “redouble” its efforts to ensure fan safety, and at least five teams, including the Yankees, have now stated they will further extend the netting in their ballparks so that more seats, and fans, are protected. Ten other teams had already taken that step.
Manfred said that he was encouraged by those steps and that Major League Baseball would “evaluate where we are after everyone’s done making their announcements.”
“Our concern is, what do fans want?’’ he added. “Do they want to be looking through screens? I think the nice thing about what’s happened is that more and more clubs have adopted it. They realize that the netting is so much better than it used to be that there’s less fan reaction than anticipated.”
Could he see Major League Baseball someday mandating additional netting at stadiums?
“I could see a situation in which we’d do that,” Manfred replied. “I’m not saying I’m going to do it. But I could see a situation where that would happen.”
Not long after he spoke, the temporary netting came down. Game time, with fewer screens, was approaching.