A large wire screen has been hung in front of the grand stand at the Union Grounds in such a way that spectators in the reserved portion are safe from foul tips flying in that direction.-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 12, 1884
According to Peter Morris, in Game of Inches, the protective screen dates back to the late 1870s and were certainly being used by 1879. He writes that the screens, which were not particularly popular, evolved from wooden backstops that were being used as early as 1867.
I can understand how the fans might have felt when they first saw the screen. A few years ago, a young girl was tragically killed when she was struck by a puck while attending, if I remember correctly, a Columbus Blue Jackets game. By the following year, the NHL mandated screens at each end of the ice, running from corner to corner and protecting fans sitting behind the goals. When I first saw them live, I hated them and found them distracting. I understood why they were there and that they were needed but I didn't like them. Now, like the screen behind home plate, I don't even notice them.
I looked it up and the young fan's name was Brittanie Cecil. I wanted to mention that because her story was heartbreaking. She attended a game on March 16, 2002 with her father, who took her to the game as a birthday present. She was thirteen years old. As someone who loves hockey, that story, to this day, just breaks my heart.
You may or may not like the screens that protect fans at baseball and hockey games but they're there for a reason. We don't want anything like what happened to Brittanie Cecil to ever happen again.