Protecting your players

Several years ago, when I was about 13 or 14 years old, I was part of a day camp for a week called Senior Multi-Sport Camp. As you might expect from the name, we played multiple sports throughout the week. We swam every single day, we played soccer, lacrosse and touch football.

On the final day of my week there, we got to play baseball. I was generally pretty good at hitting the ball when I needed to. Except every time I hit the ball, I had a scary habit of driving the ball straight. There were two “counsellors” of my group, one guy and one girl. The guy pitched first, and when I hit the ball he jumped out of the way to avoid being hit.

The girl pitched to me at least twice, and both times she threw it the ball whizzed past her head. She told me afterward that she heard my second hit flying past her ear. Had my hit been just a tad lower, I could have fractured her collarbone. She played rugby, if I remember correctly, at a varsity level, and had I indeed fractured the bone her season would have been over for sure.

I was thinking about all this last night when I heard what happened to J.A. Happ last night at Tropicana Stadium. In case you didn’t already know, Happ took a line drive to the head from the bat of Desmond Jennings of the Tampa Bay Rays. Apparently the sound of the ball hitting Happ’s skull could be heard all the way up in the press box. I didn’t see it happen last night and told myself I wasn’t going to watch the video of it, but I ended up seeing a reply on Breakfast Television this morning. It was all the more real seeing the completely shocked expressions of the players on both teams.

It’s a big reminder that anything can happen in professional sports. Injuries in baseball can happen in all kinds of way, from twisting your ankle due to an awkward batting stance to tripping on a fence. Rarely do we ever see a guy pounded in the head by a baseball traveling at over 100 mph.

CBC reported this morning that Happ was released from hospital. He suffered a head contusion and ear laceration, in other words a bruise to his head and a cut on his ear. He was no doubt very thankful for all the support from across the baseball community.

The incident is no doubt going to bring back debates about how much the MLB should be protecting pitchers. Apparently one solution is to provide caps lined with kevlar (used for bulletproof vests) that would protect heads against such blows.

Naturally, some players have made the argument that professional sport players know the risks they’re taking, while others are arguing adding new equipment might mess up the pitchers’ games.

I’m not trying to argue that baseball needs to be made inherently more safe. To completely make it safe would require some pretty dramatic changes. What I am saying is that the debate over safety certainly needs to be had, whatever the decision comes down to.

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