Following the scary incident from over the weekend which saw Arizona pitcher Robbie Ray take a 108mph line drive off his head, many players–pitchers in particular, around baseball may be re-evaluating their need to wear protective head gear. They might be well-served to call St. Louis Cardinals reliever Matt Bowman.
“My feeling is that once you put it in, you don’t notice it and it’s better than nothing,” said Bowman of the protective piece he wears inside his hat. He’s been using it since 2015, when he enquired about the options while pitching in Triple-A for the Mets organization.
“I asked the clubbie in Las Vegas what our options were,” recalled Bowman. “There was actually a guy named Colin McHugh, the starter for the Astros, who played with Josh Fields–who got hit in the head. Josh Fields, after he got hit in the head, the reliever, he started wearing this insert. He found out. At which point McCugh started wearing it and he was once part of the Mets organization.”
Protection has been available and approved for pitchers for a few years now, but finding something that offers a practical way of protection has been an issue.
“Obviously, they have some that are very large, just almost to the point where it’s not functional,” said Bowman. “But I did come across this insert that you put into the same side that your handedness is. I think the majority of balls that hit guys in the head, where you could wear protection, is right above your throwing side ear.”
“I can’t speak to how effective it’ll be, but it’s better than nothing and certainly after watching…thank goodness that (Ray) appears to be okay,” said Bowman. “But it means nothing to us to have it in and I can’t imagine it’s going to make anything worse.”
Some of the other relievers in the Cardinals bullpen are said to be giving the guard some new consideration. Zach Duke uses one and Trevor Rosenthal has been wearing the guard since a bit before the All-Star break.
“It is part of the game and it’s something you can’t prevent,” said Rosenthal of batted balls back to the pitcher. “It’s scary. You’re starting to learn now how fast the ball’s coming off the bat and how close we are.”
And unlike the space-helmet versions previously introduced, this particular head guard doesn’t get in the way.
“I started trying it out and the first day I didn’t even notice it was there,” said Rosenthal. “This is something easy just to slip in and it doesn’t affect me.”
“It was instantaneous, probably,” agreed Bowman, who just keeps it ready in his game hat. “As long as you put it in there comfortably, once you have it in the right position, you don’t even think about it.”
And even if the guard or a similar product isn’t 100% effective, it should help.
“The more you see stuff like that happen, the more guys are going to start asking or considering putting something in there,” said Rosenthal. “The way I think about it, something’s better than nothing.”
photo credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports; Brian Stull STLBaseballWeekly.com