BRADENTON, Fl. – The picture you see above isn’t photoshopped. Mark Melancon didn’t get the top of his head taken off. That’s just the new pitcher’s protective cap from Boombang, a company that has designed protective headgear for MLB pitchers to wear in the game. The helmet that Melancon is wearing, and which Jared Hughes also wore today, is the newest model, put in use in Spring Training this year, and authorized for use in games in 2016.
After the first day of trials from the two relievers, the helmet received good reviews in every aspect except the one you’d expect: the looks. Even though the helmet was comfortable, and could protect pitchers from a line drive to the head, the ridiculous design will probably have a lot of pitchers choosing not to wear it. Mark Melancon might be one of those pitchers.
“Just because the looks, being frank, it might not be something that I wear during the season,” Melancon said. “As shallow as that seems, and I’m definitely not that guy. Maybe coming in during the ninth, I don’t know if that would be good. I’m just not there yet. Give me a little bit, and I might get there.”
Melancon isn’t alone. I spoke with a few other pitchers today who said they wouldn’t wear the helmet due to how it looks. Jared Hughes, on the other hand, might end up wearing it in the season, buying into the protection aspect, and ignoring the looks.
“I liked it a lot,” Hughes said. “In the bullpen, I didn’t feel it on my head. It felt like a normal hat. Honestly, when I weigh the pros and cons, the only things that are bad about it that I can think of, is it might not look normal, and I might get teased, which I could care less about either one of those. So overall, it’s going to keep me safer, and it definitely felt comfortable. It might have been my best bullpen in the Spring. So it might have helped.”
Boombang and MLB came around to pitchers last September with the new design, getting the thoughts of pitchers and seeing who might be willing to try it out. Hughes wearing the helmet would be notable in the sense that it’s an established reliever wearing the new protective design. But Melancon wearing the helmet would be huge, as he’s one of the top relievers in the game right now, and could set an example.
“I want to be an ambassador for it,” Melancon said. “I’m one foot in, one foot out right now. And the one foot out is only on the looks, but that’s so shallow.”
Melancon did praise the feel of the hat, saying that it’s evenly distributed and feels like a regular hat. He noted it was heavier, but said that you didn’t notice that after ten seconds. He also pointed out that the helmet didn’t move, and if it ever does, you can tighten it with a strap on the back, which isn’t an option when your fitted hat starts moving around.
“There’s really no downfalls to it, except the looks,” Melancon said. “Over time, that will become normal. They’ve done an excellent job.”
You’d have to wonder if the looks would be an advantage for Melancon, getting the batter to focus on his helmet, and leading to more outs.
“Wouldn’t that be nice,” Melancon laughed. “I’ll wear pink pants out there if it worked for me.”
The interesting thing here is whether it would feel the same during a game, where the intensity is much different than a bullpen. Hughes thinks it will feel the same, but plans on using it in a Spring Training game this year.
“I think it’s going to feel natural, no matter what, but we’ll certainly see,” Hughes said. “I plan on wearing it in a game here in spring, and seeing how it feels against hitters. I think it’s going to be fine. It felt fine today. So no reason to think it wouldn’t be.”
As for the looks, I was thinking that adding a top to the helmet would make it look normal. Right now, the top of the helmet is open. Boombang provides skull caps to wear, although that can’t really be seen in most cases. The problem with adding a top and closing the helmet would be the heat.
“It’s necessary,” Hughes said of the open top. “It was nice. You get to feel a breeze a little bit up there. But it’s necessary, because without that, it would be a little bit hot.”
Hughes thinks that more pitchers will try this, but that the look will prevent some pitchers from using it. He also drew an interesting parallel to the implementation of batting helmets.
“It’s going to be tough to start trying it, because it’s not normal, it’s not something people are used to. But they probably said that about batting helmets, when they first started using those too. Those ended up saving lives and helping guys out. This could be a similar case. That ball is coming off the bat really fast, and it’s coming at our heads sometimes. If there’s something that we can wear to protect us a little bit, I’m all for that.”
The way this could help pitchers from a safety standpoint is obvious. But Hughes brought up another point about how this could help his approach when pitching on the mound.
“When I heard about it in 2012, I was already interested,” Hughes said. “I throw a lot of sinkers down in the zone. I get balls back at me pretty frequently. So hey, if it’s a little more confidence to throw that sinker down in the zone, hey, hit it right at me. I got this.”
Expect Hughes and Melancon to continue trying it out throughout Spring Training. If I had to take a guess right now, I’d say that Hughes seems like he’ll wear the helmet during the season. You might see a few other pitchers around baseball doing the same thing. And while most would be put off by the look, you’d have to wonder how they’d feel after a close call, or after watching the next big incident where a pitcher gets hit in the head on a line drive back to the mound.
“Every year there’s one that you hear go by you,” Melancon said. “And then all you need to see is one person.”