Polymer netting stops foul balls without ruining the game

Technology |  2 min. read

If you’re a baseball fan, you’ve probably seen at least one story about a foul ball hitting, and hurting, somebody in the stands.

And if you’ve been to a game, you’ve seen the response — netting that runs from home plate out along the foul lines — to protect us from those foul balls.

The nets DO work (so now the debate is how high up, and how far down each side of the field the netting should go).

But here’s something to think about — that netting has to be strong enough to stop a ball that can be moving more than 100 miles an hour, to protect us in the stands.  And at the same time, it has to be invisible enough that it doesn’t spoil the view of the game, which is why we’ve come in the first place.

It’s a little like trying to turn a sheet of bulletproof glass into a net.

So how’d they do it?

A petrochemical-based polymer fiber called Dyneema®.  It makes a netting that is stronger than steel — lightweight enough that it could float on water — thin enough that you can barely see it (especially colored green to blend in with the grass).

Only the chemical magic made possible by today’s polymers (in this case, ultra high molecular weight polyethylene) could make a net that strong.  This isn’t the same polyethylene that makes your food wrap, although both start with the building block ethylene.  Chemists can custom design the size of the polyethylene molecule and create these advanced, high-tech fibers.  Though maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised.  That same fiber, Dyneema® actually IS also used to make — bulletproof vests.

Enjoy the game.

By the way, if you’d like to see what kind of protection your ballpark has, USA Today did this rundown of all 30 MLB teams.