The Buffalo Bisons are planning a major expansion of the protective netting at Sahlen Field for the 2020 season, with preliminary plans to extend the netting to the foul poles on both sides of the diamond.
"We're hopeful it will go all the way to the foul poles. That is the plan right now," said Bisons General Manager Mike Buczkowski, the president of Rich Baseball Operations. "There's still a little bit of engineering work that needs to be done because of the size of the ballpark and mathematical work about things like the size of the pole you need to handle the netting."
The height will be 30 feet, the same height as the backstop behind home plate. Buczkowski said if the nets do not make it all the way down the foul lines, they will still be substantially increased for this season. They were extended to the ends of the dugout in 2016.
"It's a feat here. We're bigger than the other minor league parks, but we're not as big as major league parks that have a lot of other areas to attach the netting to like higher upper decks," he said. "We have to utilize poles into the ground to hold up the net. We'll have a pole near the foul pole in left field and one in the parking lot in right, then all the wiring and netting that connects to it."
The project was unveiled Thursday during Mayor Byron W. Brown's State of the City. Brown tweeted a picture signing the agreement along with Buczkowski and Jonathan Dandes, corporate vice president of Rich Products.
We have reached a conceptual agreement with @BuffaloBisons and City Comptroller Barbara Miller-Williams to make sure that installation of fan safety netting is complete by the start of the 20-20 season. #BuffaloSOTC2020 pic.twitter.com/KmlZak2fcN
— Byron W. Brown (@MayorByronBrown) February 20, 2020
Buczkowski said the budget for the project is still being finalized but he expects the cost to be at least $350,000. It will be funded by the city's annual allocation of funds in its capital budget for ballpark improvements. The team is aiming for the project to be complete by its home opener, April 17 against the Rochester Red Wings. The season opens April 9 at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
When the Bisons extended the netting to the end of the dugouts in 2016, they became the first team in the International League to take that step. All major league teams did likewise for the start of the 2018 season and will go substantially beyond the ends of the dugout for this season. That move comes in the wake of a frightening accident last May in Houston's Minute Maid Park, where a 2-year-old girl suffered a fractured skull and other brain injuries when struck by a foul ball.
Most Triple-A teams are also extending the netting this season.
"It's something we've been looking at and figuring out the best way to do it to make it as safe as we can for the line-drive foul ball," Buczkowski said. "The game has changed so much with everybody throwing so hard, everybody swinging so hard. It's created more line drives that have velocity on them."