Protecting your head

Will Carroll is a writer formerly of Baseball Prospectus. He specializes in covering injuries. He tweets under the aptly named handle @injuryexpert. He wrote a book discussing pitcher injuries that can be found here. As his Twitter handle implies, any sports related health questions should go his way.

I also have seen him covered by the local Indy media, so we live in the same town (or did at one time). I will give anyone from Indy a fair shake.

Last evening, I saw him tweet about a piece of equipment a basketball player was wearing. It occurred to me that I had never seen him discuss umpire equipment.

Like most amateur umpires, it is a avocation and not a vocation. I bring home the bacon using my head, fingers, and a keyboard. Protecting said head is very important.

In that spirit, I had this exchange with Mr. Carroll:

The mask he is talking about is available at ump-attire. The interesting thing is I just upgraded my mask this year with this being the mask I picked. Obviously I should have asked the question first, but hurrah for post purchase validation.

I have not had a chance to see any live pitches with this mask. I have some scrimmages next week. I don’t know how it will perform for me. I can say this though – compared to other masks, this one is a tank.

I have not decided if that is good or bad. It is noticeably heavier than other masks. The weight does not bother me as heavier in this instance is in the order of ounces and not pounds.

The real difference comes with the depth of the mask. It is designed where it has “shocks” on it. This obviously will reduce the amount of force that transfers to the face. From an umpiring perspective the extra depth means you have to open your hand wider to take it off. This is hard to describe but trust me the extra depth is jarring when used to slimmer masks.

I have done some practicing at home. I can get the mask off with my left hand while still holding an indicator, but it is a much different feel. I worry in a game I would constantly be dropping the indicator.

This depth also makes the mask sit farther from the eyes. At least it feels like it is farther from my eyes. As a home plate umpire this obviously effects the ability to perform your key function in the game.

Of course the key question is whether this little bit of temporary awkwardness is worth protecting your brain. The answer is certainly yes if the awkwardness is relatively small or goes away over time.

So, would I recommend this mask? Honestly, I don’t know yet. I love the fact that it protects better and have respect for the rave reviews it gets for reducing impact.  Mr. Carroll quick and definite endorsement holds weight with me.

The protection comes at a cost though. This is not the mask you put on and forget about it. The mask certainly is different (it is designed to be different). Different is neither good or bad, it is just different. I am anxious to call pitches with it and determine if, for me, which way the scale between feel and protection tips.

I have a feeling I know which way it the scales will tip. Protecting your head and brain is just too important to take for granted. Kudos to the Force3 folks for taking a stand for the health of umpires and coming up with new designs.  Bonus aside, their shin guards absolutely rule – no question those are being used all the time.

Of course, the ultimate test is how I feel after taking a blow to the face. I am sure if I ask nicely enough a pitcher will help me test this.


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