When San Diego Padres lefthander Alex Torres made the decision back on June 22 to be a guinea pig and become the first pitcher in the major leagues to wear the isoBLOX protective pitcher’s hat during a game, he knew he would be mocked. He’d looked in the mirror, after all.
“A lot of people say it looks very weird, and I agree, but I don’t really care about it,” Torres said. “I just want to protect myself. I don’t want to wait until I get hit in the head.”
Though no other pitchers have followed his lead, Torres continues to wear the hat, and has no plans to go back to a traditional cap. He doesn’t mind being a sounding board for his peers.
Since September of 2012, seven Major League pitchers have taken line drives to the head. Included on that list are pitchers like Brandon McCarthy and Aroldis Chapman.
“I’ve never been hit, but a lot of times it’s been really close,” Torres says. “Alex Cobb, last year when I was with the Rays, was the one that scared me. I saw that in real life. Right after that happened, I was the guy who relieved him. That was a really scary moment for me. A lot of guys are talking to me. Too many pitchers are getting hit. I tell them to try and not worry about how it looks. Think about your family. Think about how you’re doing what you love for a living and how fast you could lose it if you get hit in the head with a line drive.”
Dr. Robert Glatter, the Director of Sports Medicine and Traumatic Brain Injury at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, applauds Torres’ decision.
“I believe that pitchers not only at the major league level, but even in youth leagues should wear protective headgear,” Glatter says. “As the speed of pitches continues to increase, with line drives approaching 100 mph, having a barrier that may not only absorb but diffuse the kinetic energy of the ball may potentially offer players protection against catastrophic traumatic brain injuries, including intracranial bleeding or skull fractures. These new padded caps may not necessarily prevent a concussion or a significant blow to the facial bones, eyes or nose, but they might offer some protection close to the temples which is the most vulnerable portion of the skull at risk for fractures, and subsequent life threatening intracranial bleeding.”
Torres admits the hat takes some getting used to. Athletes are creatures of habits and the traditional baseball hat is a part of a players’ uniform from the first day of Little League. Of course, in the '60s, Major League players were resistant to wearing batting helmets.
“I used the hat in practice, to see how it feels,” Torres says. “And I made the decision to use it. To put it on my head and forget about everything else. After a couple of days it feels okay.”
Bruce Foster, the CEO of isoBLOX, says the padding adds less than six ounces to the weight of a traditional baseball cap, but offers a huge amount of protection. He says while Torres is the only MLB pitcher who’s currently wearing the hat, 70 other pitchers have ordered them.
“Some pitchers feel that the chance of being hit by a line drive is unlikely since potentially millions of pitches are thrown during the season, and the risks of sustaining such a head impact in general are low,” says Glatter. “Most pitchers acknowledge the danger, but feel that unless you are wearing either a football or hockey type mask, then you will never be completely protected.
"Change is always a difficult thing," explains Glatter, "and for pitchers it may be understandable that the new padded hat could potentially upset balance, vision and ultimately their delivery. However, it is more important that a cultural shift geared toward safety be part of not only MLB, but start in little league and extend through high school and into college levels. Setting an example in MLB can be an important first step toward protecting young players.”
“It may take a lot of years," says Torres. "But I think some day all pitchers will wear this hat.”
And it won’t be weird at all.