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Reds among three teams planning to extend safety netting before 2018 season

MLB, Cincinnati Reds, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres

A day after a rocket-like foul ball hit a young girl at a New York Yankees game, the Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners all committed to extend the amount of netting in their ballparks.

Reds officials announced Thursday they plan to install additional protective netting that spans the length of the dugouts on each side of Great American Ball Park. Their plan is to have the new netting installed during the offseason and in place by Opening Day next spring. They also said they will replace the existing netting behind home plate.

The Padres and Mariners have also promised to extend the netting at their respective stadiums by next season's Opening Day.

The line drive off the bat of Yankees slugger Todd Frazier on Wednesday hit the girl in the face in less than a second, and the game came to a halt as she was treated in the stands. Frazier and other players from the Yankees and Minnesota Twins knelt in prayer, and many fans were in stunned silence or in tears.

The toddler remained hospitalized Thursday. Her father said soon after she was hit, "She's doing all right. Just keep her in your thoughts.''

In a statement Thursday, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred called the events "extremely upsetting.''

"Over the past few seasons MLB has worked with our clubs to expand the amount of netting in our ballparks,'' Manfred said. "In light of yesterday's event, we will redouble our efforts on this important issue.''

Before Thursday, only about a third of the 30 major league teams, the Yankees not among them, have at the commissioner's urging extended the netting to at least the far end of the dugout. The teams include the New York Mets, who extended netting beyond the outfield ends of the dugouts this season after the All-Star break, and the Minnesota Twins, who extended their nets to the far ends of the dugouts before the 2016 season.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, told Manfred in a letter to push to extend safety netting at all 30 ballparks.

Major League Baseball issued recommendations for protective netting or screens in December 2015, encouraging teams to have it in place between the ends of the dugouts closest to home plate.

"It remains an ongoing discussion in the industry,'' Manfred said at Seattle's Safeco Field, before Wednesday night's game between the Mariners and Rangers. "We gave some guidelines two years ago, and what we have done since then is that we have encouraged the individual clubs to engage in a localized process, look at their own stadiums -- every stadium's different -- and to try to make a good decision about how far the netting should go in order to promote fan safety.''

On a visit to the Padres on Thursday, Manfred said he was encouraged by the number of conversations MLB had with clubs that day about adding additional netting for 2018.

Among them were the Padres, who said they will extend netting to the end of each dugout by Opening Day.

"I think by redoubling I mean continuing to focus and conversations with the clubs to get them to make decisions that make sense in their local markets and given the configurations of their ballparks,'' Manfred said. "I think probably the best concrete evidence of redoubling is the number of conversations that took place between my office and individual clubs on this topic.''

The Mariners said options are still being considered, but the dugout changes could be in place by the start of the 2018 season.

"This is an issue that we've been concerned about for some time," Mariners president Kevin Mather said. "We still have some details to work out, but the bottom line is, expanded netting at Safeco Field is going to happen."

The Yankees said in an August statement posted on the team's website that they "are seriously exploring extending the netting prior to the 2018 season.''

They also have been directly informing their season-ticket holders for well over a month that they are "seriously" considering extending the protective netting around the stadium. The wording of the emails, which are also on the team's website, is slightly stronger than what team executives have said to the media.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Rockies said Thursday they have been in discussions to expand netting at Coors Field for the 2018 season and will make a final determination on what they will do this offseason.

Most of the fans struck by balls and bats at games each year suffer minor injuries, but a few have been critically injured or killed. The more tragic results include a 14-year-old boy who died four days after he was hit on the left side of his head at Dodger Stadium in May 1970 and a 39-year-old woman who died a day after she was struck in the temple by a foul ball at a San Angelo Colts game in 2010.

But fans might be unaware of the stark legal reality of baseball: Successfully suing teams over such cases is nearly impossible. The fine print on every baseball ticket comes with a disclaimer that the bearer "assumes all risk and danger incidental to the game.''

For the last century or so, baseball has been virtually immune from such lawsuits because of what has become known as the Baseball Rule.

Ed Edmonds, a retired professor of law at Notre Dame Law School who co-authored "Baseball Meets the Law,'' said at least two states, Idaho and Indiana, have turned away from automatic application of the Baseball Rule. But four other states -- Arizona, Colorado, Illinois and New Jersey -- passed legislation protecting teams from lawsuits.

Information from ESPN's Andrew Marchand and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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