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'Flying Squirrel' McNeil leaps into net for grab

@AnthonyDiComo
August 1, 2019

CHICAGO -- When the White Sox became the first Major League Baseball team to extend protective netting from foul pole to foul pole at Guaranteed Rate Field in July, they did so to protect fans from hard-hit baseballs -- not to protect them from Jeff McNeil. Turns out, they accomplished

CHICAGO -- When the White Sox became the first Major League Baseball team to extend protective netting from foul pole to foul pole at Guaranteed Rate Field in July, they did so to protect fans from hard-hit baseballs -- not to protect them from Jeff McNeil.

Turns out, they accomplished both. Making good on his “Flying Squirrel” nickname, McNeil found another use for the netting in the Mets' 4-0 victory Thursday, using it to slingshot back onto the field after making a difficult catch in foul territory down the right-field line.

“That’s just instincts taking over,” McNeil said.

Leading off the bottom of the fifth with the Mets up, 1-0, Eloy Jimenez hit a fly ball down the right-field line, where McNeil caught it just before reaching the wall. Rather than vault fully over the fence, however, McNeil jumped into the netting, using it to keep upright and bounce back onto the field. The ball stayed in McNeil’s glove the entire time.

“It was like falling into a trampoline at a circus or something,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said.

The result was a spectacular catch for McNeil, a natural second baseman who has played mostly left and right field this season. Before each series, McNeil takes time during batting practice to explore the various nooks and crannies of unfamiliar outfields. Guaranteed Rate Field may be relatively straight forward, save for the fact that it features little foul ground and extremely low fences. But the ballpark recently gained another unique feature with the extended netting.

“Maybe all fields should have that,” Callaway said. “It actually saved him from maybe getting hurt.”

McNeil, who is playing through some minor right wrist soreness, admitted that he probably would have tumbled into the stands regardless of whether the net was there to save him.

“It would have been unfortunate for whoever was in the front row,” McNeil said, laughing. “I’m going in the stands on that.”

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.