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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Softball Pitcher's Face Mask Should Be Mandatory


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By Jim Moyer

The time has come for the Sanctioning bodies of adult softball and youth fastpitch softball to require all softball pitchers and 3rd basemen to wear a protective softball face mask. While the actual risk of being hit in the face with a line drive is slight, the severity of the injury can be blindness or even death. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1991 reported that more than 100,000 cases of facial trauma occurred in children younger than 14 years while they participated in sports activities with a surprisingly high incidence of female pitchers that are hit with a batted ball.

A couple of real life examples that I have witnessed first hand. A few years back when my daughters softball team was just a 10 year old team, we had the opportunity to play a High School Junior Varsity team. During that game, one of our 10 year old girls hit a line shot back at the pitcher. The pitcher was just able to move her head enough that the ball glanced off the side of her head just above her ear. She immediately fell to the ground and everyone rushed the field to see about her. Fortunately the ball had glanced off of her rather than a straight on blunt impact. She only suffered from a rather severe abrasion on her head, a swollen ear, and a pretty good size knot on her head. Understand that I'm talking about a fairly athletic 14 year old girl only had the chance to react and turn her head about 45 degrees to avoid a ball hit by a 10 year old girl.

Just this season I was watching a fastpitch softball game of 12 year old girls. I was sitting by the father of the 3rd baseman and we were discussing how scary it is that coach's have the 3rd baseman play so close to home plate. Many 3rd baseman now play about 20 feet inside 3rd base and even closer when the coach thinks the other team is going to bunt. Later that same inning, a batter ripped a line drive about 18 inches directly over his daughter's head. She didn't even have time to flinch. Honestly, it was so sudden she didn't have time to duck or move her hands for protection. The dad, relieved that his daughter was okay, said, "That's it. I'm online tonight and will buy a protective face mask. She won't play 3rd base again without one."

One might think a protective face mask is only applicable to girls softball, but that would be naive. Just two years ago, I met a man that played recreational slow pitch softball. He proceeded to tell me that he still plays softball but he can no longer pitch. He had been struck in his right eye socket with a batted ball and could not risk being struck again. Are you ready for this, it took three surgeries and 189 stitches to repair the damage to his eye socket, nose, and cheek. I don't know his exact age, but I suspect he was in his late 20's or early 30's when the injury occurred.

The game of softball is the most participated sport in the U.S. Given this level of participation and the possible severity of facial injuries, it just makes sense that players in high risk positions should be required to wear a softball protective face mask. The unfortunate reality is that most people will not wear safety gear until they are required to do so. A couple of years ago, face masks on batting helmets became mandatory. In the year prior to that rule, my daughter's softball team was the only team in our fastpitch softball league that voluntarily put face masks on batting helmets. That's just one team out of approximately 50 teams.

I'm not sure why more players don't wear the protective face mask. I suspect some parents are not aware that it exists and many other parents don't want to spend the $40.00 because the odds are so slim. Imagine what the cost might be for a trip to the emergency room, a week in the hospital, and two or three re-constructive surgeries. That's just the actual financial cost. Also consider the potential of losing sight in one eye, or the mental damage associated with having scars from 189 stitches. Those costs can't be measured.

Now that you have been made aware of the safety issue, the severity of the injury, the knowledge that there are softball protective face masks on the market, what will your position be? Will you be proactive with your local league? If you coach, will you be proactive with your team? Finally, will you be proactive with your daughter, or with yourself if you play softball?

Slow pitch softball and fastpitch softball are great games. I hope you will take the necessary precautions to ensure your safety and those you are responsible for. For more information regarding softball game face protective masks, please see http://www.mysoftballcoach.com/game-face.html.

Jim Moyer is the author of http://www.mysoftballcoach.com Having coached over 500 youth fastpitch softball games, Jim decided to put the information online to allow parent/coaches to draw on his unique experience.

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