Thanks to new equipment, you can make the safe call


Imagine never worrying about getting injured by a baseball. Never feeling the sting for days after being hit with a ball.

That's the ultimate goal for baseball manufacturers.

The biggest trend in Little Leagues recently is use of a batting helmet equipped with a face mask. The plastic guard, which is designed like a football face mask, wraps around in front to protect the face, specifically the mouth area.

"It is not catching on as well as expected," said Paul Albrecht, vice president of sales for Marlow Sports, which provides athletic equipment for local teams.

"But it is still our largest seller among our protective wear. It's mainly the parents that want it, and not the children."

Some kids say that the plastic face masks can block their view and make it harder to breathe, so now the guards now are being manufactured out of wire.

"Kids were coming down with heat exhaustion with those plastic guards," said Scott Palmberg, a Wilson's Team Sports representative.

"We are trying to make baseball less like football with these wire cages."

Palmberg also said that chin straps are now built into the helmets. With many leagues having a few helmets for several kids who have different hat sizes, the chin straps will provide players with a better fit and increase safety.

These face masks are the most widely available of the safety equipment. Most Little Leagues have them, or they can be purchased at local sporting goods stores.

Although the face is now protected, the rest of the body is open to getting hit. But that fear can be made smaller by the creation of RIF and D-9 balls.

The RIF (reduced injury factor) ball has a soft shell that lessens the blow against the body.

The D-9 ball, which also has the softer outside, is smaller so kids can get a better grip.

Other types of balls have a hard outside cover but are safe because of a cushion cork or soft rubber core.

A new product that needs to be specially ordered at sporting goods stores is the heart guard, a covering 6 inches by 6 inches that is strapped around the shoulder. The heart guard is designed to reduce serious injury if a batter is hit in the chest.

"The protection is out there if the kids want it," Albrecht said. "There is no reason for the batter to be afraid anymore."

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