Rounding Third: Need for funny cap not a laughing matter

The Sports NetworkJune 27, 2014 

It's a sight that unfortunately has become all too familiar in Major League Baseball stadiums:

A pitcher being carried off the field on a stretcher after getting struck in the head with a batted ball.

For whatever reason, it seems to be happening more and more often.

Well, there is now a technology available that could minimize the damage in those situations and MLB got a look at it earlier in the week when San Diego Padres left-hander Alex Torres became the first pitcher in a big league game to wear a padded hat.

Packaged under the brand name isoBLOX, the cap Torres wore is a little more than a half-inch thicker in the front and an inch thicker on the sides -- near the temples -- than standard hats, and affords protection for frontal impact locations against line drives of up to 90 mph and for side impact locations up to 85 mph.

Of course, this is a topic that hits a little closer to home to Torres than most, as he was a member of the Tampa Bay Rays last season when his then teammate and close friend, Alex Cobb, was struck in the head by a line drive.

Grantland.com reported at the time that the ball that struck Cobb on the right ear traveled 102.4 mph. Even the hard-shell helmets worn by major league hitters aren't touted as providing surefire protection for speeds over 100 mph.

Cobb was fortunate that day and only suffered a mild concussion and was released from the hospital the following day.

The Tampa Bay right-hander has now become isoBLOX' main pitchman and has stated he and at least 60 other big league pitchers plan on wear-testing the hat, which is essentially a skull cap that looks like a big league ball cap.

"It is important that this new technology take root in youth baseball and softball so that its use becomes an accepted part of the sport," Cobb said. "The protective plates in the isoBLOX Skull Cap With Impact Protection have passed rigorous testing, so I'm convinced that this is the safety measure that young players need and what their parents want for them."

Slightly wider than the standard head covering, the cap is fitted with soft padding that is made of "plastic injection molded polymers combined with a foam substrate" and is designed to diffuse energy upon impact through a combination of dispersion and absorption techniques.

"We can all agree that player safety is a top priority at all levels of play," said Bruce Foster, chief executive officer, 4Licensing Corporation (4LC), isoBLOX�S parent company. "Being approved for on-field use by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association will help make the game safer and validates our isoBLOX technology after more than a year of development and testing. We are honored to be involved in this important work."

Actually, Torres looked more like a character out of the Super Mario Brothers video game than a major league pitcher. Sadly, he was mocked on Twitter and even by his teammates for wearing the headgear.

Even his wife told him that he looked weird.

Of course, there was former MLBer and current New York Mets analyst Keith Hernandez, who said that Torres looked "absurd" and "if he was scared, he should get a dog."

Perhaps Hernandez would have a different opinion had someone close to him suffered permanent neurological damage in a baseball game.

IsoBLOX, though, is trying to prevent that from happening.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, an estimated total of nine million kids age 6 to 17 play baseball and softball. The AAP also reports that in high school and youth baseball and softball, 64 percent of injuries to the head and face are attributed to being hit by a batted ball.

Take a gander around any youth ballpark or a playground basketball court. All these kids do is imitate what they see these pro athletes do on television. If big league pitchers start wearing these caps, younger players will as well. Heck, my kid rubs his hands in the dirt before every at-bat because that's what Jackie Robinson did in the movie "42".

And he wears batting gloves!

Torres and Cobb aren't the only ones to be in favor of the equipment. A lot of other MLB pitchers wear-tested the caps this spring, with some noting that some refinements needed to be made if they wanted to wear it in a game.

The biggest complaint is the size. And, yes, it does look a little odd. But as a father who has young boys, if that's the price Torres, Cobb or any child at the youth level has to pay to avoid what could be a catastrophic injury, sign me up.

Perhaps a few more high-profile pitchers will have to get onboard before it's truly accepted. Let's hope that happens before something really ugly happens, though.

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