Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Wixon: New pitching helmet would protect pitchers, but will they wear it?
Zander Anderson would love to block out the memory of his fastball getting smashed back at him last month. But Anderson, a switch-hitting, multiposition star for Woodrow Wilson, remembers everything.
His team led, 2-1. There was one ball and one strike on the hitter. He delivered a fastball, a pitch he can throw in the mid to high 80s, and then …
“Oh, my God. I just got hit in the eye.”
Anderson was hit in the eye with a screaming line drive. As you consider the damage that can do, consider this:
Behind the plate, the catcher and umpire are geared up for battle with helmets, masks, shin guards and chest protectors. A pitcher, just 60 feet away from where balls are launched by bats with names such as Catapult, Octane and El Loco, has nothing. And it’s difficult for him to quickly get in a fielding position as he finishes his delivery.
“If everyone agrees that a catcher and an umpire need that kind of protection,” said Ted Anderson, Zander’s father, “then it makes sense to have it for a pitcher.”
It does make sense, and now Easton-Bell has unveiled the prototype for a pitching helmet. It’s a 5½-ounce circle of plastic that slides over a baseball cap, protects like a bicycle helmet and is expected to be available this fall. Although Easton-Bell hasn’t disclosed a price, it probably won't cost much more than a batting helmet.
But will players wear it?
It could be a tough sell. They might not like the feel of it. They also might worry that their toughness will be questioned. Concern about safety, after all, kind of flies in the face of machismo.
But a baseball flying toward your face can change everything. Two years ago, Seminole State (Okla.) junior college pitcher Jordan Underwood lost his eye after it was hit by a batted ball. Underwood has returned to pitching at Southeast Missouri State. Last year, Marin Catholic (Calif.) High School pitcher Gunnar Sandberg nearly lost his life when he was struck in the head by a line drive.
Only injuries that severe could make Anderson, a 6-3, 200-pound senior who will play next year for New York University at Albany, seem fortunate. Anderson needed a metal plate inserted to reinforce his left orbital socket and another plate to repair the fractures in his forehead. A gash from the bridge of his nose to his left eyebrow required 26 stitches and doctors had to pop his sinus cavity back into place.
Anderson is playing again — and playing well. Since returning from the injury two weeks ago, he’s 6 of 8 with 11 RBIs. In a role reversal last week, he smashed a line drive back at a Spruce pitcher and hit him in the stomach. Anderson’s first impulse was to run toward the mound to check on the pitcher instead of run to first.
The pitcher was OK, and fortunately, most pitchers aren’t hurt seriously when struck with a batted ball. But last year, 13-year-old Brady Frazier of Burlington, Vt., was killed when he was struck by a line drive. The danger is very real.
The highly evolved composite bats of today are part of the problem. They have a trampoline effect that propels balls faster and farther than ever, leading the National Federation of High School Athletic Associations to ban some of them.
But even the aluminum and composite bats that are now legal, and will probably remain legal, can hit balls at speeds dangerous to a pitcher finishing his delivery less than 60 feet away.
Obviously, pitchers can’t be fitted with protection like catchers. They can’t stand behind the pitching screens used during batting practice, either. When you play any sport, you can’t be protected from everything.
But if there’s a way to reduce risk without changing the game, it’s worth investigating. Anderson, who hasn’t pitched since his injury but is ready to get back on the mound, wants to try the pitching helmet.
But will other pitchers try it?
Maybe after they talk with Anderson about his experience. He’s a tough kid, but he might need surgery to correct his left eye because it is still dilated. The metal plates in his face are also permanent, making part of his face feel numb.
And yet he knows he was lucky.
“He definitely found the sweet part of the bat,” Anderson said of the hitter who lined the ball at him. “I only had time to lift my head before the ball hit me.”