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After fan hit by foul ball, Billings vows to install extended nets at Dehler Park

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Posted at 4:18 PM, Sep 12, 2023

BILLINGS — An ongoing conversation about netting at ballparks has now fallen into the laps of Billings city officials, with a goal to install extended nets at Dehler Park by next season.

A Billings woman is helping to champion the move after she became the latest person to suffer a foul ball to the head at a Billings Mustangs game in late August.

Dawn Larimer is an active Mustangs fan, even housing players for years, so it’s typical to see her in section 118 most games.

However, she never thought she would be in the position she is, advocating for nets around the stands.

“My husband has a glove, so we are always conscious about it usually,” said Larimer. “But we weren’t with that guy (player) because he was a right-handed batter.”

The ball cracked off the bat and made a beeline straight for them.

“We have seen people get hit before and it just didn’t have the same reaction as when I personally got hit,” said Larimer.

Baseball officials estimate some baseballs coming off a bat can carry a speed as high as 90 mph.

Larimer knows that well having watched plenty of games.

“My husband put his hand up to slow it down, and then it just hit me directly right here,” she said. “And there was nothing I could have done.”

Larimer said she was fine, saying she put ice on her head, and laughed it off for the rest of the game even after paramedics came down to check on her.

But soon the shock wore off.

“It definitely changed my mindset when I got hit,” she said.

So, she drafted a letter to the Billings City Council members asking that the issue of netting be revisited.

In 2018, Major League Baseball made the switch to extended netting to protect fans. Then, all the MLB’s affiliated minor league ballparks were handed down those orders too, advising organizations to extend netting down each foul line no later than the start of the 2025 season.

However, the Mustangs don’t currently have a minor league affiliation, so the issue of extended nets has sat dormant.

While Larimer’s email prompted news coverage by MTN, City of Billings Parks and Rec Director Mike Pigg says the conversation has been happening with the Mustangs long before this.

“The level of concern has gone up now,” said Pigg.

He’s been pricing out nets, looking into cost, design, and installation. But it's so far just preliminary.

“We are trying to make it as little of a disruption during the game as possible,” he said. “But there is still going to be posts. There is still going to be net.”

Believe it or not, the issue of nets is controversial to some fans. Larimer has even seen it firsthand in her section. She’s even seen fans get hit and still not want extended nets blocking their view of the game.

“At first I think it is different, but you get used to it,” she said.

Her issue comes down to safety. She knows some disagree, and she adds her injury could have been much worse.

“It’s definitely a liability,” said Larimer.

And Pigg agrees.

“I don’t think we can sacrifice safety for someone else’s convenience,” he said.

The Billings City Council will have to approve any netting at Dehler Park. Before any vote, the Council is required to hear public comment. If that all happens, Pigg anticipates the nets to be up by next summer.