The time has come for the sanctioning bodies of adult softball and youth fast pitch softball to require that all softball and 3rd base pitchers wear a protective softball face mask. While the real 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, more than 100,000 cases of facial trauma were reported to have occurred in children under the age of 14 while participating in sports activities with a surprisingly high incidence of pitchers being hit. with a batted ball.
A couple of real life examples that I have witnessed first hand. A few years ago when my daughters softball team was just a 10-year-old team, we had the opportunity to play on a high school junior high team. During that game, one of our 10-year-old girls took a line shot at the pitcher. The pitcher was able to move her head enough that the ball bounced off the side of her head, just above her ear. She immediately fell to the ground and everyone ran into the field to look around her. Fortunately, the ball had bounced off her instead of a blunt impact. He only suffered from a fairly severe abrasion on his head, a swollen ear, and a fairly large knot on his head. Understand that I’m talking about a fairly athletic 14-year-old girl who only had a chance to react and turn her head about 45 degrees to prevent a 10-year-old from hitting a ball.
This same season I was watching a 12-year-old girls’ fast pitch softball game. I was sitting next to the 3rd baseman’s dad and we were discussing how scary it is that the coach has the 3rd baseman playing so close to home plate. Many third basemen now play about 20 feet inside third base and even closer when the coach thinks the other team is going to touch. Later, in the same inning, a hitter threw a roughly 18-inch line directly over his daughter’s head. He didn’t even have time to flinch. Honestly, it was so sudden that she didn’t have time to duck or move her hands to protect herself. The father, relieved that his daughter was fine, said, “That’s it. I’m online tonight and will buy a protective mask. She will never play third base without one.”
One might think that a protective mask is only applicable to women’s softball, but that would be naive. Just two years ago, I met a man who played recreational slow pitch softball. He proceeded to tell me that he still plays softball but can’t pitch anymore. He had been hit in the right eye socket with a batted ball and he couldn’t risk getting hit again. Are you ready for this? It took three surgeries and 189 stitches to repair the damage to the eye socket, nose and cheek. I don’t know her exact age, but I suspect she was in her 20s and 30s when the injury occurred.
The game of softball is the sport with the highest participation in the US Given this level of participation and the possible severity of facial injuries, it makes sense that players in high-risk positions would be required to wear a protective softball mask. The unfortunate reality is that most people will not wear safety gear until prompted. A couple of years ago, masks on batting helmets became mandatory. In the year before that rule, my daughter’s softball team was the only team in our fast pitch softball league that voluntarily put masks on batting helmets. That’s just a team of about 50 teams.
I’m not sure why more players don’t use the protective mask. I suspect some parents don’t know it exists and many other parents don’t want to spend the $ 40.00 because the odds are so slim. Imagine what it would cost for a trip to the ER, a week in the hospital, and two or three reconstructive surgeries. That is just the real financial cost. Also consider losing sight in one eye or the mental damage associated with having 189-stitch scars. Those costs cannot be measured.
Now that you have learned about the safety issue, the severity of the injury, the knowledge that there are protective softball masks on the market, what will your position be? Will you be proactive with your local league? If you are a coach, will you be proactive with your team? Finally, will you be proactive with your daughter or yourself if you play softball?
Slow pitch softball and fast pitch softball are great games. I hope you take the necessary precautions to ensure your safety and that of those responsible. For more information on softball game face shields, see http://www.mysoftballcoach.com/game-face.html.