Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman is expected to make a full recovery after recently being hit in the face by a batted ball in a preseason game against Kansas City in Surprise, Arizona. Reports indicate the line drive that hit Chapman was clocked at 99 mph. He underwent surgery to repair a broken bone above his right eye where a metal plate was inserted. Chapman should be back in action in about six weeks and is very lucky that his injuries weren't worse.
This incident, coupled with the start of the 2014 season, turned my thoughts to safety in the game of baseball. I'm certainly no expert when it comes to athletics as I was raised in a home where motorsports got top billing. On the field, though, baseball is probably my sport from the standpoint of understanding the rules relatively well. However, I don't need to be an expert about America's favorite pastime to wonder if additional safety precautions for the players are necessary, the pitcher in particular. Is it time to consider protective headgear? After all, the batter is wearing a helmet. Why not take the same precaution for the guy on the mound? He, too, has baseballs coming at him at a high rate of speed. And think about the advancements in the game. The equipment is better when compared to many years ago and the players are bigger, stronger and faster hence the balls are hit with much more force. If you've seen the video of Chapman being struck, it's evident it happened so quickly that he did not have time to protect himself
Up and coming pitchers, current pitchers and former pitchers alike who are reading this blog probably have a number of reasons as to why headgear for the person on the mound is an undesirable idea, just like the guys who don't wear helmets when riding a motorcycle. I'm just not sure I understand why protecting your head and face is a bad thing. Consider the ramifications of no protection... the possibility of permanent facial injuries, eye/vision issues, brain injury. Is it worth it? Football players wear helmets/masks, as do hockey players. Their performance on the field/ice doesn't seem to be impacted by this. Furthermore, I'm told that youngsters in little league (in the Ohio Valley) start pitching at age 9 and wear protective gear - a heart guard and a mask - until they're 12. Why change this? Just because they are getting older (and probably better at the game) doesn't mean they can't be injured. If anything, as the batters become stronger and more skilled, shouldn't steps be taken to protect the pitcher? I certainly welcome feedback on this topic as I've not played this type of sport before. However, at this point, I can't think of anything more important than safety.
In this case with Chapman, all's well that ends well. He's going to be back in the game in no time. I realize that these types of occurrences don't happen every day, but I hope it doesn't take a permanent injury or death before safety is looked at more closely.