Baseball fans seated anywhere in the grandstand at Davenport’s Modern Woodmen Park will be protected from line drive foul balls and broken bats at Quad-Cities River Bandits games beginning this season.
Crews began the installation of nearly 12,000-square feet of netting Wednesday at the Midwest League stadium, a project which will ring the playing surface from the outer edge of the visitor’s dugout on the first base side of the facility to the far end of the grandstand in left field.
“As much as anything, it is a reflection of the changes in how people watch games,’’ River Bandits general manager Andrew Chesser said. “Cell phones and texting have changed things and the concentration level of spectators during games is different now than it was a decade ago.’’
The project is one of two scheduled to be completed before the team’s April 6 season opener.
Davenport city officials are being asked this week to approve installation of an energy-efficient LED field lighting system which would make Modern Woodmen Park the first minor-league stadium in the nation to have its playing surface lit by LED lights.
“That’s an exciting project,’’ Chesser said. “Not only will we be going green, but we will be addressing a need.’’
The aging lighting system at the stadium, partially updated when the ballpark was renovated following the 2004 season, did not fully pass its last minor-league stadium standards inspection.
The project is designed to bring the facility’s lighting into compliance with standards all 160 minor-league clubs nationwide must meet.
Chesser said outfield light standards which were relocated to the top of grass outfield berms when the stadium was renovated will be replaced and the new system will provide more directional lighting, reducing light pollution outside of the ballpark.
River Bandits owner Dave Heller announced plans for expanded netting at the facility last summer, following recommendations from Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Connor that minor-league clubs nationwide follow guidelines put in place at the major-league level by commissioner Rob Manfred.
Previous netting at the Quad-Cities facility protected only seats located between the home plate side of both dugouts.
After initially planning to add additional protection only for box seats behind both dugouts, Chesser said the decision was made to extend the netting the entire length of the grandstand on the third-base side of the stadium.
“The more we talked with fans, the more we heard that they want the additional protection. There are some baseball purists who prefer minimal netting, but the majority of the people we’re talking with want more,’’ Chesser said.
“We do what we can to make River Bandits’ games a family-friendly environment and part of that is to make things as safe for folks as we can. With this, every general admission seat will be behind a net.’’
Foul balls that make their way into the stands now will have to clear the top of the 30-foot high net which will be installed in four sections covering 400 feet from one end of the facility to the other.
Empire Fence and Netting of Lincoln, Nebraska, is installing not only on-field netting, but will also install a new batter’s eye backdrop in center field and replace well-worn netting in indoor batting tunnels at the facility.
The company has completed similar netting projects at two other minor-league baseball stadiums in Iowa, the Iowa Cubs’ Principal Park in Des Moines and the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ Veterans Memorial Stadium, as well as at facilities from Michigan to Florida.
“It’s become a safety issue in the game and a lot of teams are addressing needs,’’ said Scott Kleinbeck, who is overseeing the project for Empire. “Players are hitting balls harder now than ever before and it’s become a concern.’’
Two types of netting are being installed at Modern Woodmen Park.
From one dugout to another, a net made of polyethylene fiber will provide additional strength while maintaining a small twine size. Down the left field line, a knotted nylon net will protect fans.
“Fans will be able to see through both types of nets easily,’’ Kleinbeck said. “They can take a beating.’’