Monday, March 14, 2011

SPORTS: Safety SHOULD Be The By-Word

Last week, the Toronto Star's website ran a story about a new soft helmet to be worn by baseball pitchers. It was modeled by a young lad who fractured his skull when a pitch he threw came back at him courtesy of a line drive off a metal bat. This helmet is a prototype and will be available sooner or later, although sooner equates to about two, maybe three years.

Sooner than sooner would be better still.

I never fractured my skull, but I came perilously close to skulling my brother Wayne. I was swinging away during a game of batter up when, unbeknownst to me, Wayne came up to me to say something. I swung at the ball, missed and hit Wayne on the follow-through. To this day, he doesn't remember a thing about the incident. Bat/ball-skull meetings rarely work out well. The kid in the Star story survived. So did Wayne. Occasionally, things don't work out that well.

Pitching in these days of metal bats is far more of a heroic job than it once was. Metal bats send out line drives faster than the pitches coming in. They are like metal trampolines. Steps have been taken to slow them down and again, sooner than sooner would be better.

Back in my softball coaching days, I was coaching the Bramalea peewee reps and we were having a practice at Earnscliffe School Park. I was throwing batting practice, sans a net (a device unheard of in those days for softball teams) and no helmet. Just my thick head with its shaggy haircut inside the normal dilapidated cap. I was throwing fairly hard and pitching from between the peewee rubber and second base to give the kids a bit of pace. We had an important tournament coming up and we expected to see some of the best fastballers in the province.

Robert Jansen was at the plate. Now Robert might have been peewee-aged, but he was already bigger than me by two inches and probably outweighed me by 10-15 pounds. He was a big moon-faced kid with one of the most pleasant personalities of anybody I ever coached. Not a mean bone in his body. And certainly he had no bone to pick with me. I windmilled in a fastball down the middle and he swung as hard as he could.

From there, everything went into slow motion. I saw the ball clearly and reached to catch it. Unfortunately for me, while everything was going in slow motion, so was my body. The glove wouldn't giddy up and get up in front of me to snare the ball. In fact, I barely saw the glove enter my field of vision when the ball arrived and hit me square on the heart (yes cynics, I do have a heart). The ball bounced off my chest and went straight up in the air. I reached for the ball with both arms and managed to make a big circle the ball dropped through and hit the ground. At that point, I hit the ground too and blacked out.

I threw batting practice from BEHIND second base, after that.

With talk of concussions aplenty, I do remind all that hockey and all sports engender some danger. Steps SHOULD be taken to minimize things that LEAD to bodily injury unreasonably. But that said, some people are going to get hurt, often in innocous ways. But where there IS a chance to use equipment to make playing sports safer, it should not be a question of IF to implement. But of how soon.

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