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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.

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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