By: Allan M. Siegel
On June 21, 2014, Alex Torres broke new ground in the world of baseball helmets. He took the field in a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers wearing a redesigned helmet made specifically for pitchers. Inside the helmet is a 7 ounce protective band that guards the front of the skull from the potential impact of a line drive. Its mushroom-like design extends wide over the ears and sports a wider brim then the baseball caps worn by most pitchers. The helmet is made by Isoblox, which designed the helmets to match new standards established by MLB medical advisors in conjunction with the University of Massachusetts Lowell. The redesign was prompted be severe injuries to Brandon McCarthy, Hiroki Kurdoa, and Aroldis Chapman who were all hit in the face by line drives. Chapman suffered multiple facial fractures and had to be carried off of the field on a stretcher, and McCarthy needed emergency brain surgery.
So why is Torres the only one wearing this new and much safer cap? The simple answer is looks. Torres has been relentlessly teased for looking like a mushroom, an alien, and a cartoon character. Some pitchers say they do not want the added weight, or that they do not want to be distracted by how they look as they prepare to throw a pitch. Torres says, "I don't care about how it's going to look. I want to be safe." Last season, Torres saw and heard the horrific sound of his teammate Alex Cobb getting struck in the head by a line drive. Torres says "I thought he died," it appeared that severe.
Torres wants to stay in the game as long as possible, and he understands the danger that a traumatic brain injury caused by a line drive could pose not only to his life but also to his career. Other teams across Major League Baseball have ordered the helmets. Some have ordered it in every size just to be prepared. The Head Athletic Trainer for the Padres, Todd Hutcheson, wears the cap during practice and in the locker room. He says, "I'm trying to desensitize guys, because they see this big hat on someone and they freak out and start making fun of them. The more they see it, the fewer jokes."
This new helmet could help to prevent concussions experienced in baseball for athletes at the professional level all the way down to the youth level. A concussion could severely impact the education of a student athlete, or could have catastrophic life altering effects on the cognitive function of the brain. This helmet could also help prevent the devastating effects of multiple concussion syndrome that can occur after a person has experienced one or more concussions. So, knowing that this helmet could save your life or help to preserve your brain function, would you wear it?