Easton-Bell unveiled their prototype for pitching helmets Tuesday as part of an effort to cut down on brain injuries, especially to young athletes. Easton-Bell CEO Paul Harrington stood alongside Gunnar Sandberg, a 17 year old who suffered a near fatal accident pitching for Marin Catholic High School last year, during the unveiling.
For those of you not familiar with the incident, Sandberg was struck in the head by a line drive resulting in severe brain swelling and had to be placed in a medically induced coma after having a section of his skull removed to reduce pressure. The injury made national headlines sparking the debate “Are our kids safe on the pitcher’s mound?”
Easton-Bell has made every right move possible in this situation. The helmet is constructed out of expanded polystyrene, which is extremely lightweight weighing in at a brisk 5.2 ounces, in no way impairs the player, and have a next generation cyber-soldier look about them. Harrington has been quoted as saying, “we can design the best pitcher’s helmet, but unless the kids put it on, it’s not going to accomplish its purpose,” proving that the company understands that the greatest hurdle in protecting the players will be the players themselves. Little League and the California Interscholastic League have agreed to field test the unit.
While no one will attempt to downplay Sandberg’s injury, many are curious if this is a knee jerk reaction to a freak accident. The line drive that struck Sandberg has been estimated to be traveling at just over 100 miles per hour. That 100 MPH line drive left the bat and struck Sandberg’s head in less than half of a second. With composite-barrel bats, players are able to launch balls back at an average speed of 93 mph, but speeds as high as 103 mph have been seen. Dr. Daniel Russell, professor of applied physics at Kettering University, has claimed that “measured batted-ball speeds for typical wood bats range from 70-mph to 110-mph.” Dr. Russell did not have information available on composite bats at this time, as his study was focused on metal bats vs. wood. The discussion of outlawing composite-barrel bats is nothing new, but only recently has the NCAA and NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations) actually banned these bats from play switching to safer metal bats, a move some say will save lives.
Stephen Keener, president and CEO of Little League Baseball and Softball has been quoted as stating “this type of product needs to be introduced at the youngest levels of youth baseball, that’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take some time. … What we’re talking about is saving kids’ lives. These injuries are rare. When they do happen, they are very traumatic, catastrophic.” Keener himself has a son who pitches at the college level, and plans on purchasing him a helmet when they become commercially available this fall.
You can never take the risk out of something completely. There will always be those freak accidents where somebody just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even this week, minor league manager Luis Salazar had to be taken off the field in the stretcher after he was struck with a foul ball in the dugout. However, by adapting this new technology, players can minimize the chance of accidents of this magnitude happening. While some purists may speak out against the helmet, with a little time and the right associations they can be as common place as batting helmets in the future. Don’t expect to see these popping up in the majors this season, but don’t be surprised if the next generation of hurlers bring these new tools with them. Gunner Sandberg will be returning to the field this coming season, armed with his new helmet and a hunger to play.