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Column: Better safe than sorry

By Mike Peng
On January 30, 2014

In July of 2009, I was pitching for my high school summer ball team when I was struck in the face by a comebacker.
I never saw the ball coming.
According to my coach and teammates, the baseball apparently bounced off my right cheekbone before landing just past the shortstop on the outfield grass, though I didn't recall any of that either.
Luckily, a minor contusion was all I sustained from the incident, but I never forgot what the doctor told me at the hospital; that if the ball had struck me any higher or any harder, I would have either lost my right eye or broke my cheekbone.
Since then, I've watched a number of Major League Baseball players suffer the same misfortune of getting struck by those lightening-quick comebackers.
There was Brandon McCarthy in September of 2012, then Doug Fister a month later in the World Series, followed by Alex Cobb and J.A. Happ last season at Tropicana Field, just to mention a few of the recent incidents that gave me flashbacks.
These accidents are rare and often unstoppable, but MLB did something earlier this week to help mitigate the seriousness of the injuries.
On Tuesday, MLB notified all 30 teams of its approval of the padded baseball caps manufactured by isoBlox, a subsidiary of 4Licensing Corporation, as an alternative option to the regular caps.
The new caps are "fitted with uniquely-formulated protective plates that use a combination of dispersion and absorption techniques to diffuse energy upon impact with a high-velocity object," according to the isoBlox website.
While the description indicates the increased safety that comes with the new caps, some players - even the ones who have been hit - said they would not wear it.
In a column written by ESPN's Jayson Stark, he mentioned McCarthy's dissatisfaction with the design of the new caps and the choice of not wearing them.
On Sept. 5, 2012, McCarthy was hit near his left ear by a line-drive off the bat of the Los Angeles Angels' Erick Aybar when he was pitching for the Oakland Athletics. The injury was so severe that McCarthy had a life-threatening brain contusion along with skull fracture and epidural hemorrhage.
A successful brain surgery saved McCarthy's life and he was back on mound for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season. However, McCarthy stressed the increased size and "awkward" feeling of the cap as the reasons for his reluctance to wear it.
He has a point. Baseball is a sport of rhythm and comfort, whether if you are in the batter's box or on the mound, any little tweak in a motion can cause world of different in this sport.
But to have success on field come at the risk of serious head injuries? Sorry, I'll take the uncomfortable and silly looking caps any day.
It's not as if players nowadays still wear the same baggy pants and loose caps that the likes of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams once wore. Players can adapt to outfit changes and even fix their mechanics according, but they cannot mend a damaged brain.
The new caps still wouldn't help protect the facial areas from injuries like the one I suffered, but by providing any type of protection to prevent players from getting seriously hurt by those "corked bullets," it's a step in a positive direction.
 


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