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Sports

Advocates for protective caps for pitchers eye Little League

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Published:   |   Updated: July 7, 2014 at 10:13 AM

— A baseball sizzled off a bat on June 15, 2013 and struck Rays pitcher Alex Cobb square on the head. Cobb fell to the ground, and after he was rolled away on a stretcher, an old debate heated up anew.

How can you protect a pitcher’s head from a line drive?

The concern is more prevalent than ever in Major League Baseball and is gathering steam at every level — all the way down to Little League.

Some MLB players, including Cobb, have strongly suggested Little League pitchers try the isoBLOX cap, which has padding embedded along the sides and front and fits under a regular cap. One major leaguer, San Diego’s Alex Torres, has already worn the padded cap in an MLB game.

Cobb — who is partnering with isoBLOX on development but has yet to wear the product in an MLB game — believes its better to start sooner than later.

“That way, wearing the (padded cap can become) second nature,” Cobb said. “It would be great for this to get more accustomed to kids and as they get older and then get to the collegiate levels it won’t be abnormal gear for them to be putting on every day.”

The isoBLOX website says the skull cap, “fits over the head of the young player and underneath his or her stretch-to-fit or adjustable team cap. … The caps consist of uniquely-formulated protective plates that use a combination of dispersion and absorption techniques to diffuse energy upon impact with high velocity objects.”

For Tampa parents Stephanie and Marco Suarez, who read with much interest the story about Torres wearing the cap, it sounds like a great possibility.

“Why not provide as much protection as possible?” asked Stephanie, who has three boys — 10-year-old twins Cristian and Gabe and 8-year-old Willie — pitching in Little League baseball. “It makes sense to look at all possible safety precautions.”

The Suarez family is particularly sensitive to the topic because Cristian and Gabe have both suffered concussions in their brief athletic careers: Cristian while playing soccer and Gabe playing lacrosse. Gabe’s injury was scary because a collision knocked out him completely out.

“When (Gabe) came out of it he was dazed and nauseous,” Marco said. “He mumbled and was aloof. It was very spooky. When you see your child go through something like that it will make you think about things.”

Stephanie and Marco did some research and decided that their boys, who are exceptionally athletic, would focus on baseball.

The boys have not played lacrosse or soccer after their concussions.

“They miss (lacrosse and soccer),” Stephanie said. “But they do love baseball.”

The Suarez family is not so much worried about baseball injuries, but Marco is interested in exploring the protective cap.

“I think it’s like (Cobb) said,” Marco said. “It’s a case of starting them young and getting them used to it. So by the time they get older everyone will just accept (the padded caps as normal).”

Bayshore Little League president Chris Polaszak said he isn’t opposed to anybody using protective equipment, as long as it falls under the standards of Little League baseball, which the isoBLOX cap does.

Does that mean Little League pitchers donning the padded caps at this year’s Little League World Series? That’s up to the individuals themselves, said Brian McClintock, the national Little League Director of Media Relations.

“There are no Little League regulations that prohibit any player from wearing (the protective cap) on the field,” McClintock said. “Anything that enhances safety is something that we encourage.”

Concerns about the isoBLOX cap — available at DICK’s Sporting Goods for $59.99 — is it might feel bulky and that it provides no protection below the cap line, leaving the face and ears exposed.

Torres, however, said he also encourages safety improvements of any kind moving forward. Torres, after all, was Cobb’s teammate in 2013 and he witnessed the moment Cobb was struck in the skull and fell in a heap.

“I came in after Alex Cobb was hit in the head,” Torres told CNN. “That’s really left an impression on me, how his head sounded from the bullpen. That was really bad. I was shaking. ‘Oh my God! Oh my God!’ I’m glad he’s alive.

“It’s a good idea they make this kind of hat to protect my head. You want to protect life. I don’t have a kid yet, but I want to see my kid grow up.”

Who knows? Maybe Torres’ child will wear the cap just like daddy did, and just like every other Little Leaguer in the world.

“I think (children) should be using (the caps) because they use aluminum (bats), and the ball comes off the aluminum harder than the bats we are using,” Torres said.

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