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SEATTLE (AP) — Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said he does not expect teams to make changes to the protective netting around ballparks during the season, although he expects conversations to continue about whether netting should be extended.
Manfred's comments on Tuesday came less than a week after a young child was struck by a foul ball and hospitalized in Houston. Manfred said structural issues in each individual stadium would make it difficult to mandate changes during the season, but the incident at Minute Maid Park will lead to conversations into the offseason.
Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. hit a line drive in the fourth inning of last Wednesday's game into the field-level stands down the third base line, where it hit a young girl. Manfred said communication with the family of the young girl has been primarily done by the Astros, who have then updated the commissioner.
"Look, I think it is important that we continue to focus on fan safety," Manfred said. "If that means that the netting has to go beyond the dugouts, so be it. Each ballpark is different. The reason I hesitate with 'beyond the dugout,' I mean, a lot of clubs are beyond the dugout already. But, there is a balance here. We do have fans that are vocal about the fact that they don't want to sit behind nets. I think that we have struck the balance in favor of fan safety so far, and I think we will continue to do that going forward."
Following recommendations from MLB, by the start of the 2018 season all 30 teams had expanded their protective netting to at least the far ends of the dugouts after several fans were injured by foul balls in 2017. The latest injury has sparked renewed debate about whether protections should go down the foul lines.
"It's very difficult given how far the clubs have gone with the netting to make changes during the year, because they really are structural issues," Manfred said. "But, because safety is so important, I'm sure that conversation will begin and continue into the offseason."
Manfred was in Seattle as part of a West Coast business trip, but also to meet with Mariners owner John Stanton, who has taken over as the chair of the competition committee and with owners' meetings coming up in few weeks in New York.
Among the other topics Manfred addressed:
— Manfred said he's been kept abreast of the attempts at stadium development a few hours away in Portland, Oregon, but reiterated any consideration for expansion won't come until stadium situations are resolved in Oakland and Tampa Bay. Manfred sounded hopeful about the progress in Oakland, and described Tampa Bay as being behind Oakland in the development process.
— Manfred expects any rule changes to be addressed in the next collective bargaining agreement negotiations that will ramp up next year. The current CBA expires after the 2021 season.
"I think given the way that the players' association has reacted to various rule changes that have been put forward and given that a year from now we'll be in that final year of an agreement and we'll be having conversations, I think those rules changes are probably going to be part of that bigger negotiation," he said.
— Manfred described Seattle as being in consideration for a future All-Star Game, assuming the Mariners submit a bid. Seattle last hosted the game in 2001 and would like to again, but Manfred said the team has not submitted a bid for any future openings. Currently the All-Star Game is scheduled out through 2021 with the 2026 game already scheduled to be in Philadelphia.
"Let me pick a random number, but once you are in the 18-plus-year category since you've had a game, when the club comes forward to make a bid, they would be in the category that gets active consideration," he said. "Obviously, we don't like to markets too close together because we have 30 that we are trying to serve. But like I said, once it's been 18 years or so, it's time for that consideration to be active."
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