Fastpitch Face Masks Revisited

Interesting how times and opinions change. Last week while searching for something else I came across this old blog post. It dates back to May of 2008, and in it while I don’t outright oppose face masks I don’t exactly come across as supporting them either. Kelly Barnhill

I have definitely changed my tune on that score, especially when it comes to pitchers and corner infielders (third and first base). Guess I’ve seen enough hard shots and needless injuries to now believe wearing a face mask should be the standard in fastpitch softball now rather than an oddity.

To me, the risks of damage to the face are simply too high to ignore. All it takes is one hard shot off a juiced-up bat to forever change a softball player’s life.

Not just in how they play the game either. I mean actual life. No matter how much we wish it wasn’t so, how someone looks has an effect on how we react to them and often even whether they get a particular job or not. To put it bluntly, studies have shown that attractive people are more successful. A blow to the face from a softball could end up hurting one’s career chances.

This, of course, is on top of the immediate trauma and time lost in softball and other activities while injured.

The good news is, much of the stigma formerly attached to using a mask has gone away. Up until recently, high school-age players were told that wearing a face mask would be perceived as a sign of weakness by college coaches, severely reducing their chances of being recruited.

Apparently even that stigma is going away, as evidenced by the fact that Kelly Barnhill, a freshman pitcher with two-time WCWS champions Florida, wears a mask when she pitches. And she is just one of a growing number of college pitchers who are wearing masks not simply because of injury but as a permanent choice.

If a masked pitcher is acceptable to the 2X champions, it should be considered acceptable at all levels of play now. At the Rick Pauly Elite Pitching Clinic in Indiana, no less than former Georgia pitching coach Rick Pauly himself flat-out said pitchers should wear masks as well. If he’s saying it, players should be listening.

The only thing left, I suppose, is to make face masks mandatory. I know there are those out there who oppose it, just as people opposed face cages for hitters when they were introduced. No doubt some opposed catcher’s gear back in the day too. But as the risks and liability costs continue to rise, it probably won’t be long before the only pitchers not wearing masks will be those grandfathered in under the old rules.

Does every player need one? I still don’t think so. For me the dividing line is how much damage a ball to the face will do. A hard ground ball that takes a bad hop on a shortstop will be painful and leave a mark, but it’s unlikely to crush an orbital bone. A hard shot back to a pitcher or corner, however, could do serious, permanent damage.

But here’s the bottom line. It doesn’t matter what I think. If you’re a player, it’s your face. If you’re a parent, it’s your daughter’s face. Get the facts, make the best decision and don’t let what anyone else says be the determining factor. Better to have the protection and never need it than to need the protection and not have it.

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About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on March 30, 2016, in College softball, Health/safety, Pitching and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. It really shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out!,,,

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  2. I agree, softball players especially the infielders should wear face masks. Without them, very serious injuries could happen including life threatening situations. Also its better to be safe than sorry.

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  3. It’s amazing how long it takes for things to change, Safety should be the first thing on coaches minds.

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  4. Yes, I think it’s a tide the old-school coaches won’t be able to avoid.

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  5. Jennifer Tellez

    When I was playing unfortunately there were no masks. I suffered a concussion twice! The first time the doctor said I was luck I didn’t lose my eye. The ball hit just below my eye on my cheekbone which did not break, but busted the flesh open. I needed 12 stitches and a plastic surgeon was called in to make sure I healed without a scar. The second time I had a a broken nose and slight skull fracture. I ended up having to have my nose fixed due to breathing problems. I was third base by the way.

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  6. Third base is probably the second riskiest position (after pitcher) for those types of injuries. Sounds like you survived the injuries ok, thankfully. I had a couple of third basemen who took a ball to the head, but nothing as severe as what you describe, fortunately.

    It’s a shame there’s still some bias out there, although I think it’s changing rapidly. At one point, both pitchers in the WCWS this year were wearing masks (Paige Lowary, who has already suffered a facial injury, and Kelly Barnhill). Hopefully the stigma will be removed at other positions as well so players can do what they feel is in their best interests rather than what they have to in order to stay on the field.

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