August 5, 2011. It was a beautiful Friday night at Coors Field and the Rockies were hosting the Nationals. Juan Nicasio was on the mound when in the second inning Ian Desmond stepped to the plate. What happened next is etched in most people minds:
Pitchers being hit by line drives happens way more often then anyone, including the MLB offices, want to admit. Nicasio was knocked unconscious and broke his C1 vertebrae when he hit the ground, but that was the least of his worries. Nicasio also suffered a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain. By some divine miracle he was on the Rockies’ 2012 Opening Day roster. In 2012 the most notable injury occurred off the dome of Brandon McCarthy. McCarthy ended up with an epidural hemorrhage, brain contusion, and skull fracture that nearly killed him. Then during the 2012 World Series Tigers pitcher Doug Fister escaped serious injury after being struck by a hard hit from the bat of Gregor Blanco.
Closer to home for Rockies fans is the death of AA Tulsa Driller’s first base coach Mike Coolbaugh who died after being struck while standing in the first base coaches box. This causality in 2007 actually prompted MLB to change a rule that required base coaches to wear hard-shell helmets.
Thankfully the MLB offices are not standing by idly this time either, as news has broken that many pitchers will be wearing a new ball cap on the mound this year — one with a shock absorbing pad inside that can limit the magnitude of head injuries suffered in situations much like Fister, McCarthy, and Nicasio all experienced. It will start in 2013 with pitchers, approximately a dozen, but hopefully it transitions to the entire field of play. What if outfielders were wearing a hat like this when they collided tracking down a fly ball in no-man’s land. Would it reduce head injuries there too? I would imagine so! I will be the first to admit that this padding will not protect players from all come-backer type scenarios, and some even say that this hat would not have protected McCarthy as the ball appeared to hit him just below the cap line.
But the hat is truly a technological breakthrough and who really knows how much it would help until it is implemented and used. Major League Baseball has actually considered designs from 5 different companies including Unequal and MLB player favorite EvoShield. The Unequal model that will be used to start 2013 is lightweight (4 ounces), roughly 1/8th of an inch thick, and is made of “military-grade DuPont Kevlar”. This is the same type of padding used in most high-impact sports such as football, hockey, and lacrosse. At left is a picture of what the inside of the hat will look like. The prototype that EvoShield is developing is slightly heavier and thicker.
Now granted, all players mentioned in this blog have come back to pitch again at the big league level (assuming McCarthy makes the Diamondbacks 25-man roster) but imagine if they hadn’t. Imagine if these prime athletes hadn’t been able to recover at the rate they had, or if Fister hadn’t dodge injury all together. The baseball world would be in a major uproar. This advancement is something that can only improve the game of baseball; it is past time for player safety to become paramount.
I personally believe Maple bats or bats made from other light density woods should be next to go, but that is a whole other story.