WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros president Reid Ryan said Wednesday the club will expand protective netting at Minute Maid Park to run the length of both dugouts, beginning with the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic, March 3-5.
The net above the dugouts will be about 12 feet high, Ryan said, but it will be lowered during batting practice so fans can still have access to players for autographs. The netting behind home plate, which is 32 feet high, and above the dugouts will be replaced this season with a smaller mesh to allow better visibility, Ryan said.
"One of the things we were working on was that we're going to have it be retractable, so it will actually be down during batting practice because we wanted to make sure fans would continue to have access to getting autographs from players and interacting with players," Ryan said. "The net will be down for batting practice, and right before the game it will go up the length of the dugout and look a lot like what the Rangers have in Arlington."
Ryan said the additional netting comes as the result of fans being more engaged with the game of baseball on social media via their mobile devices, thanks to improved high-speed internet at ballparks. The netting provides protection from foul balls and bats that might fly into the stands.
"I think people are interacting with the game at a new level, whether it's commenting on the game during the game with their friends, taking pictures, things like that," Ryan said. "We've just seen the demand for more fan choice really has gone up, and it's really the market saying, 'Hey, we want more options to sit behind protective netting.'
"By being able to go to the end of the dugouts, it's going to service giving more fans that option and also it does bring a higher level of protection from flying bats and balls and stuff like that. The bottom line is today people experience the game differently, and there's some folks that want to come and they want to watch the game and interact with their friends on social media, and we want them to have that ability to do that in an environment where they feel like they're safe."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.