By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
The hot corner in baseball is third base. In softball, it’s the pitcher’s circle.
“In softball, more balls are hit up the middle,” said Corinth’s John Smillie, who has coached and umpired baseball and softball for 40 seasons. “Even though they’ve moved the pitcher’s distance from the plate back to 43 feet from 40, there’s still no reaction time for the pitcher.”
According to studies, a batted ball reaches the pitcher’s circle in 0.27 seconds.
For that reason, Smillie would like to see national softball organizations on all levels – high school and college – require pitchers to wear a facemask for protection.
“At the high school level, somebody’s going to get killed,” he said. “We know it’s dangerous. We shouldn’t wait until somebody gets killed to make changes.”
According to a study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, pitchers and infielders are at a greater risk than batters of being hit by a ball. Still, high school and college batters are required to wear masks on their batting helmets, pitchers and fielders are not.
Smillie’s starting to see more facemasks being worn on the high school level, but he sees even more of them in the youth leagues.
“I’m seeing younger kids wearing masks – pitchers and infielders,” he said. “They’re getting used to wearing them. I think we’re going to see more of them being worn.”
West Union High School pitcher Danielle Taylor wears a facemask when she’s in the circle. So does her sister, Brittany, who plays shortstop.
“You get used to it,” said Danielle, a senior. “I don’t want the ball to come back and hit me in the face. I got hit once in the mouth before I got my mask.”
Taylor’s father, Jason, who gives pitching lessons to younger players, insists his daughters wear facemasks.
“The way the bats are now – and they’re hotter and hotter – you need to wear one,” he said. “I tell the younger players I teach that they need to wear a mask if they’re going to pitch.
“You’re taking a big risk not wearing one.”
The Taylors are friends with the Henson family from Senatobia, whose 14-year-old daughter, Leeah, was hit in the face by a batted ball April 1 in a high school junior varsity game.
Henson’s mom, Audra, posted a picture of her daughter’s injured face on Facebook. Danielle Taylor saw the photo. “It made me sick,” she said.
Despite hearing horror stories of players being hit in the face by a ball, many high school pitchers and infielders opt not to wear a mask.
“I wouldn’t wear one,” said Nettleton senior pitcher Michele Hester. “It would get in my way.”
Hester’s teammate, outfielder Jessica Patterson, said she would wear a mask if she played an infield position.
“My dad told me if I pitched or played infield I’d have to wear a mask. He paid too much for my teeth,” she said, flashing a smile.
Steve Koon, whose daughter, Lauren, is a freshman pitcher/first baseman for Ingomar High School, didn’t give his daughter an option.
“When she told me in the seventh grade she wanted to pitch, I told her, ‘You’re going to wear a mask,’” she said. “She feels a lot more comfortable wearing one.”
Many high school girls are concerned that wearing a facemask makes them less attractive.
Smillie just laughed, “I’d rather them look ugly with that mask on and survive.”
Contact Gene Phelps at 678-1593