Posts Tagged ‘sports safety’

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

February 4, 2014

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.

Update: Halo Baseball Hat Insert

April 17, 2013

So occasionally I’m as good as my word.  As you know my big fella sustained a rather severe concussion a couple of months back, and I was looking for some additional head protection when he played baseball, especially out in the field.

I gave this new Halo hat insert a decidedly mixed initial review because of the fact that it simply sat too high on the head for a normal baseball hat and fell off the head way too easily.  A protective insert only works if the hat is on the head, not the ground.

At first, I thought if we got a fitted hat that was too large for him, say a 7 5/8, we could mitigate that problem.  But no matter how large the hat was, it still sat too high.  I realized at that point that it wasn’t the circumference that was the problem, it was the depth of the hat.

That's a regular adult size on the right, for comparison.

That’s a regular adult size on the right, for comparison.

So I let my fingers do the walking and Googled “extra deep baseball hat” and lo-and-behold up came the Big Head Caps website, complete with MLB replica adjustable hats for all 30 teams.  My son’s team is the Indians this year, and they are using the standard “Chief Wahoo” hat (no comment on the relative political correctness of the team or the hat).  They are made by Twins Enterprises and are the size XXXL hats and are noted to be “Extra Deep.”

The hats themselves are a bit larger, but not so much so as to be horribly noticeable once placed on the head.  It took a while, but after some trial and error, we found that if you put the insert in the hat with the back of it in line with the bottom back of the hat, it actually fits quite nicely and stays on the head.

Gus has been wearing it for the past few weeks and while he doesn’t find it as comfortable as playing with a regular soft cap, has had no issues with the hat in the field or while pitching.  A few kids have noticed the backing of the Halo visible in the back strap area, but it’s been seen more as a novelty.  Gus doesn’t look like he’s playing on the field with a giant boulder strapped underneath his hat as I showed in the earlier pictures.

Note the front panel needed to slide a little higher than bill level in order to fit correctly on the head.

Note the front panel needed to slide a little higher than bill level in order to fit correctly on the head.

One thing to note is that our doctor at the SCORE concussion clinic noted that devices from the Halo to normal batting helmets are designed to mitigate against the physical aspects of a blow to the head, namely skull fracture.  He stressed that they were NOT designed to protect against concussions.  So while I’m glad Gus has the extra protection, I realize that this is not a super-duper energy shield around my kid’s head.  After discussing it with Gus, we decided that he would bring both hats to practices and games, and wear the Halo hat while pitching and his regular hat while playing other positions.  Given the Halo was developed with pitcher protection in mind, this seemed a more than reasonable solution.

So, there you go.  If you’re looking for a little added security and the Halo sounds attractive, this is the path you need to take to make sure you can get it to stay on your kid’s head.  This is something to think about especially if your team is ordering specialty hats, you may want to see if your team can order an extra XXXL hat in order to have this option available to you.

That said, I’m going to keep my overall grade of B- just the same here.  For while I figured out how to make it work, it took a lot of searching and an extra $40.00 for the hat.  Given the $70.00 product + shipping charge for the Halo itself, that’s a pretty hefty price for the additional peace of mind.

The Review: Halo Baseball Hat Protective Insert

March 8, 2013

I’m not all about the glory (really!), but this is the memory that always comes back to me  and gets me jazzed for the next baseball season. This weekend opens Spring Training here in Arlington, and I’m pleased to say my big fella is pain-free from his concussion and has slowly started getting back to baseball.

Understanding, however, that concussions are additive and he’s fresh from a pretty significant bang to the head, I decided to see whether there was any new stuff out there that can better protect those precious coconuts of theirs.

Click to get more details

Click to get more details on the S100

Of course, when we think about baseball protection, attention turns immediately to batting helmets.  But while I did do research on that and ended up with the Rawlings S100p (which I will review later), my thoughts actually turned toward whether there has been any progress toward protecting players in the field.  As a coach in both softball and youth baseball, I have actually seen more occasions when fly balls or line drives bonk off a player’s head than I have seen beanballs (myself included).

The depth perception for popups is not an easy thing for many to master, and, of course, for pitchers, there is an ever-present danger of the line drive back to the mound.   After a lot of searching, I found that there actually were a couple of products on the market designed for in-field head protection.  The first one is called SportsGuard, and it is specific to youth baseball and the head protection costs a very reasonable $20.00.  They note, however, that the product is available at Dick’s Sporting Goods, and when I went to Dick’s to look to purchase one, it was nowhere to be found.

Just didn't like that gap in the back

Just didn’t like that gap in the back

That made me feel a little uncomfortable, plus the fact that the design seemed to have no protection for the back of the head, which is where Gus got struck.  Now, this product may be an excellent one for all I know, but from my web search on it, I couldn’t find anything on their site other than a vague notation that it had been “tested by a major university” that was underlined but without a link to more information.  All of the various reviews I could find were also more the “isn’t this nice” with little factual backup.

With a little more digging, I found out from this MLB Network video that Major League Baseball had been thinking about this issue for its pitchers, too, and had enlisted a company that worked with the military for years, Unequal Technologies, to try and create something for a baseball hat.  Their product, the Halo, has just hit the market.  They have far more specific backup on exactly the level of protection their product affords, and because it is made for fitted caps, offers protection for the entire head.  Here’s the video:

It is, however, far more expensive than the SportsGuard product, coming in at $60.00 with another ten bucks for shipping.  I must say that, at this price, I probably would not have gotten it for Gus had I not wanted to be as sure as possible that for this season he was well protected.

The Halo came in the mail today, and here is my and Gus’s initial take on it:

view of plastic "helmet" side that goes on the hat

view of plastic “helmet” side that goes on the hat

Product Design: The halo does feel surprisingly lightweight.  It’s definitely lighter than a baseball and I’d say about the same weight as my thin Skagen wristwatch.  The exterior is cool, with the protective shell a very slick plastic/vinyl feel and the part that touches the head more of a plastic/rubber composite.  Grade: A-

Ease of Use: In all, I would say not bad, but this 1.0 design still needs a bit of work.  As advertised, the halo does fit pretty easily inside a standard fitted hat.  It can take a little while to get it in just the right place, and, for whatever reason, it didn’t come with a picture or instruction for orientation (I went online to take a look).  You can put it in an adjustable hat, but you’ll see the back of the halo exposed from it.  Grade: B


With about 2 minutes of adjusting--looks just like the website.

With about 2 minutes of adjusting–looks just like the website.

Look: Yes, safety is important, but if anyone remembers David Wright in his “Great Gazoo” batting helmet, you don’t want to look goofy.  Here, we’re in the ballpark, but more needs to be done.  The key issue here is that the Halo, despite it being fairly thin, does push the cap up the head, leaving it looking a little artificially high.  This is especially pronounced with adjustable hats that tend not to sit as low on the head in the first place.  The picture you see here with Gus is the very lowest fitting hat I could find in my collection and it still sits high.

The other issue with it is that once the hat is put on, the Halo sits about 3’’ higher than the end of the hat, and it does protrude out a bit and it is noticeable.  Not horribly so, but it’s there.  But, while not invisible, it doesn’t look embarrassingly different than a normal hat.  It would be more of the “Huh, he wears his hat a little funny, doesn’t he?”  kind of feel.  Grade: B-

No, my son is not a conehead

Feel: “Hard.”  That’s what Gus said.  “Not bad hard, but hard.”  As for weight, he said, “A little heavy, but not anything that felt distracting.”  I tried it on and I have to say I agree.  If you’re expecting it to just melt right into your hat, forget it.  That said, once on it was pretty easy to shrug off in terms of how it actually felt on the head.  So no angels inside massaging your scalp, but for protection of this sort, I felt it totally acceptable.  Grade: B+

Fit: This is where this product still has some defects.  I can see how this technology would work amazingly well in a helmet, but putting something hard into something soft and making it work is a serious challenge.  First, do NOT expect this to fit in your regular hat.  You will need a cap at least two sizes larger than you are used to.  Gus is usually a 7 1/4 and even the rather roomy 7 1/2 you see in the pictures still didn’t have it sit right on the head.  We’re going to bring this to the store and try it with a 7 5/8 to see if we can get the fit we need.  In trying different hats, when I put it in my MLB stretchable batting practice hat, I got the best overall fit.

Because it rides higher, as you’d expect it feels a little looser.  We did some basic workouts and while the hat stayed on for the most part, it did drop off once when Gus lunged, but on numerous other occasions when he dropped to his knees or leaped for the ball, it stayed put.  In my BP hat, it was more secure and stayed in place even when I turned and ran and looked up as if going for a fly ball hit over my head.  We’re going to continue to toy with hat fit and see if we can find a good solution, but for now, Grade: C

Overall Initial Reaction: I want to stress that this is just our first day feel for this product, not an end-use assessment.  That said, if I didn’t feel Gus really needed extra protection, I don’t think I would be an early adopter of the Halo.  I do think they are closing-in on something extremely helpful, however.  If your child has already suffered a concussion or is a pitcher and you’re concerned about safety, this may well be a product worth your checking out.  I will give you updates on our in use feel for this product as we go along.  Overall Initial Grade: B-

I’m curious to hear if anyone else has had experience with these or any other protective gear, as I’m always on the lookout for things that can help minimize risk without minimizing the fun.

Play Ball!

UPDATE 4/23/13: I have an updated review based on more experience with the Halo you can read here.