Sunday, November 02, 2008

High school baseball and facemasks

Safety is first in youth sports - or should be. But what happens when safety collides with our notion of what looks and feels like sports?

Recent example: Two researchers from The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, Ohio, Christy L. Collins and R. Dawn Comstock, collected data from 100 high schools about baseball injuries during the school years of 2005-2006 and 2006-2007. In all, they found 431 injuries. Of those, 60 (11.6 per cent) were attributed to being hit by a batted ball. (Warning: More statistics ahead.)

Blows to the head/face (48 per cent) and mouth/teeth (16 per cent) accounted for the highest percentages of batted-ball trauma. Of kids who were smashed with a batted ball, 18 per cent required surgery. All this, and a lot more, is published in a scholarly article that appeared recently in the journal Pediatrics.

Collins and Comstock conclude their paper with a recommendation, one that, while perfectly sensible, I bet my vintage Mickey Mantle bobblehead will never catch on. "[W]e strongly recommend that helmets with face shields or at least mouth guards and eye protection be used by pitchers, infielders, and batters at the high school level," the authors note.

The recommendations have several things going against them: the added expense of the safety equipment, which most high schools would be hard-pressed to absorb; and the thorny issue of enforcement. Imagine an umpire checking each inning for mouthguard compliance. (I don't want to). Though adults might be loathe to admit it, our most vigorous objection might be on aesthetic grounds. We tend to like kids sports best when they are indistinguishable from the real thing. And who ever saw Alex Rodriguez wearing a facemask?

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