MLB Players: Give Back to the Community by Using Your Head—Literally

One of my younger son’s best buddies, I always call him Big Ben, is just getting over a concussion.  The incident, like that of my own big boy’s, was more a freak accident and not sports related, but it spelled the end of his basketball season.  It’s really too bad, because despite Big Ben’s relatively small size, his natural athleticism made him a big asset to the 3rd Grade team.

IsoBlox_0128_Demo_640x360I thought of Ben when MLB made the announcement that they were going to allow new protective hats for pitchers in games for the first time this year.  After Gus’s concussion, I did some research and found The Halo, a protective insert that MLB had tried out before ultimately deciding on isoBlox, and after some struggles with size, were able to find a way to make it work to the extent that Gus was comfortable.

I just offered Ben’s parents the chance to see if they could make our Halo work for him, as the big fella’s an even better baseball player than he is a hoopster, and I know every parent who has nursed their child through a concussion wants ever protection this side of bubble wrap to help give both them and their child every reasonable protection upon reentry.

In an ESPN interview, the isoBlox CEO Bruce Foster said that pitchers that tested the new hat didn’t feel much of a difference, but, he admitted, the look will take some getting used to.  “It will look different until it doesn’t look different anymore,” he said, noting how the goalie-style catcher’s mask now seems just as normal as the traditional variety.  It does look like they have a youth version — it will weigh 5-6 ounces and cost $60 (about the same as the Halo).  Here’s hoping it won’t take a XXL hat to make it fit correctly.

I was watching the MLB Network the other night, and Al Leiter (ah, the memories of the 99-2000 Mets— our only back-to-back playoff appearance—warm the heart) and Dan Plesac were discussing what percentage of pitchers actually wear the hat.  The highest percentage estimated was 50%, but the cynic in me thinks that is rather high.  Note that about 200 of the 750 Major League players used the Rawlings S100 batting helmet when it was first made available in the single-earflap version in 2012.  Rawlings continued to refine it because of “the look” and all players began using 2013 when it was made mandatory through the agreement between the league and the players’ association.

Mets Rockies BaseballSo why did so many players resist? Vanity, I believe, first and foremost.  For while they’re not the “Great Gazoo” helmet worn by David Wright after coming back from his severe concussion, the 2012 model did ride a little higher than what we are used to seeing.  And when that oddity is for extra protection, the instinctive athlete “macho” often comes to the fore.  The “man” doesn’t want to appear weak in the face of danger.

Now, that was just for a tweak to batting helmets, something we’ve understand is a protective device.  A hat, however, has never been seen as anything else but decorative, perhaps with a smidgen of sun protection.  And that’s exactly why it is even more important for Major League pitchers to step out of their comfort zone and use the new pitcher’s cap.  For there is no place on the field a player is more vulnerable than after she or he has released a pitch.  That’s one of the reasons I personally chose the Babe Ruth system over Little League, as I want the older boys to have the extra four feet (50 rather than 46) of protection from those line drives back to the box.

So here’s the rub.  Many Major League baseball players have set up charitable foundations to help those in need.  But what has made them into role models to children in America and around the world is what they do on the field.  And so when  Clayton Kershaw tried on that new hat and said, ““I’ve actually tried one of those on. I’ve thrown with it.  You don’t look very cool, I’ll be honest… But technology is unbelievable, and it really doesn’t feel that much different once you get used to it,” perhaps it was because he looked in the mirror and saw not himself but instead kids like Ben and Gus who might be spared a significant injury because their MLB hero holstered his machismo and donned the poofy protective cap, as it opens the door to real discussion about this kind of protection at the youth level.

So from this youth baseball coach and Dad, my kudos to every single pitcher who decides to wear “the hat.”  It  may very well be the best service a baseball player can give back to his community.

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