Keeping Our Heads Safely in the Game

Here’s the million dollar question: “Why don’t pitchers – especially at youth levels of play – have to wear protective headgear, but batters at all levels do – even to run bases? This, at a time when youth bats are bigger, lighter, and more powerful than ever. Not to mention that, due to realignments of age requirements, bigger players often are playing on fields where distances have not been adjusted to compensate for the increased power of these bigger bats and these bigger kids.

A recent Facebook post showing a Mountville Indians pitcher wearing protective headgear, prompted one fan to ask, “What kind of helmets do pitchers wear now?” Unfortunately, the answer is – none. The big question is – why not?

Rewind to 2011, when an Indians pitcher was hit in the temple by a line drive. (He subsequently was hospitalized, but fully recovered.) Because of this frightening incident, the Indians coaching staff, out of concern for the safety of their players, researched protective headgear options that would help safeguard future Indian pitchers from similar head injuries. There was only one available at that time, but it was not yet in production. However, the Indians players were afforded the unique opportunity to test a prototype of this gear and then provided feedback to the manufacturer, with the hopes that the protective headgear soon would be commercially available. For reasons unknown, the product never went to market, so Indians pitchers have been wearing that same prototype of the headgear ever since. Not surprisingly, it is now showing significant wear.

To date, there’s been no regulation adopted at any level that says a pitcher’s head must be protected, so what motivation do manufacturers have to develop anything? What will it take? Former MLB Padres pitcher, Chris Young, who was hit by a line drive in 2008, says unfortunately (speaking about the MLB level), it may take a pitcher losing his life. (http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/10363291/pitchers-protective-caps-approved-major-league-baseball)

Strange. Especially when you consider that in recent years other measures have been implemented by various baseball organizations to make youth baseball safer: requirements that coaches must wear helmets when coaching bases, longer wait times before play can resume after thunder is heard, pitch counts to protect young arms. It’s not that these changes are not good ones, but what about also protecting young pitchers’ heads from the unlikely but potentially catastrophic consequences of being beaned in the noggin by a line drive?

Parents of Indians players are cautioned that it’s not known whether or not the prototype protective headgear worn by our pitchers actually would prevent such an injury. Let’s hope we never find out. One thing is certain though – when our coaches’ heads are surrounded by their pillows each night, they rest easier knowing something also surrounds the heads of their young pitchers when they’re on the mound.

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