The Des Moines Register published an article on Friday which brought to our attention that Iowa could lead the way by becoming the first state to require protective masks for all softball infielders (including pitchers, of course). Masks have been growing in popularity in our sport, and rightly so, as we’ve seen facial injuries parallel the growth and increased speed of play in fastpitch, roughly 20 percent of all injuries in fastpitch softball are to the face and head. So it seems only natural that the groups who regulate the sport at different levels would be looking to prevent those injuries. Especially since, even with the knowledge of what a line drive can do to your face, most/many girls still choose not to wear masks in the infield.
That’s something that we think needs to change. As we become better hitters, our pitchers and #5’s on the hot corner have even less time to react to hard hit balls. And there is no argument that holds up against the threat of serious injury while playing a sport we all love. But for some reason, players still resist masks. Unfortunately, some continue to suffer head injuries that could’ve been prevented. Fortunately, many of those injured are taking the lead on forcing change in our sport.
In May of this year, the mask debate was again in the headlines after a series of serious head injuries across the country lead to parents and players calling for the wide use of protective face masks. In Kentuky, Haylee Hamm (a shortstop), took a line drive to the face, shattering the orbital floor of her left eye, fracturing her nose and leaving her with a severe concussion. After plastic surgery and a titanium plate, Haylee is back playing and leading the call for the use of protective masks for all infielders.
At the same time Peyton Workman, from Kansas, was getting the word out about protective masks after her own injury. Workman was pitching in a 2013 tournament when a line drive hit her in the middle of the face, breaking her nose.
NPR then picked up the call for infielder masks that same month, highlighting the issue in Texas high school softball. There, Didi Duran suffered a severe concussion after another hard line drive caught her in the face, and forced her to miss three months of play while recovering.
With 8,000 concussions in girls softball last year (cited in the NPR article), it not only seems like every league has their own story of softball injuries that could’ve been prevented by a protective mask, but it’s more likely that every team has one or more stories from the past season. Which means it’s not a unique occurrence that your teammate suffered, it’s a trend.
In the end, we don’t think it will be the sport’s governing bodies who institute real change. That change is going to come from you the players. Sure league rules will help with the push, but when each of you infielders chooses to wear a mask in every game and decides it’s worth it to protect yourself from serious injury, only then will masks become as common as batters’ helmets and masks.
So what’s your opinion on requiring masks for all infielders who play the sport and how would you handle a requirement? Should masks be required at the college and pro levels too? If you wear a mask, what made you decide to wear one? And if you don’t, what’s keeping you from wearing an infielder mask?.