Monday June 23rd, 2014

San Diego pitcher Alex Torres created a stir over the weekend with his oversized cap, up to an inch thicker than what everyone else on the field was wearing. But the technology embedded under the relief pitchers’ New Era hat was about more than just a puffy-looking headpiece. It was about head protection.

Following the Brandon McCarthy line-drive-to-the-head scare in Tampa Bay about 18 months ago, Major League Baseball approved the use of an isoBLOX Protective Cap this past spring. Torres debuted it on the mound on June 21, giving us new reason to look beneath the fabric of the blue Padres hat.

In development and testing since May 2013, the 4Licensing Corporation-owned isoBLOX was approved in the spring, and MLB players had the chance to test out the product while training in Arizona and Florida. Designed to protect the front and side of the head, isoBLOX uses a combination of foam and hard plates to absorb and disperse energy.

Designed to protect the front and side of the head, isoBLOX uses a combination of foam and hard plates to absorb and disperse energy.
Andy Hayt/San Diego Padres/Getty Images

The inter-connected hard plastic shock plate system deflects the initial impact of a line drive and flexes via hinges to absorb “residual force,” isoBLOX materials say. The hinges offer the dual protection—and also move with the head—and a foam material molds and remains flexible around the head.

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The hat reduces impact severity to below standards considered high-risk for skull fractures and traumatic brain injuries for ball speeds hitting the front of the cap at 90 mph and the sides at 85 mph, all slightly higher than the average of 83 mph MLB says line drives strike pitchers.

Each MLB pitcher can use the custom-fitted cap on a voluntary basis, adding a bit of bulk to the look, but only increasing the weight of the hat from about four ounces to 11 ounces. The isoBLOX technology is sent to New Era, which sews in the extra protection, Bruce Foster, 4Licensing CEO says in a statement.

Think of the isoBLOX Torres hat as puff with purpose.

Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.

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