WASHINGTON -- After a frightening number of line drives up the middle that seriously injured fellow pitchers, San Diego Padres reliever Alex Torres became the first pitcher in Major League Baseball to wear a padded protective cap during a game.
"It's actually a historic moment," says Bruce Foster, CEO of 4Licensing Corp., which makes the isoBLOX Protective Cap, designed to protect against batted balls traveling close to 100 mph.
Torres was in the bullpen last year when a ball hit then-Tampa Bay Rays teammate Alex Cobb in the head. The sound of ball hitting Cobb's skull still resonates with Torres.
"That's really an impression to me, how his head sounded from the bullpen. That was really bad. I was shaking, 'Oh my God, Oh my God.' I'm glad he's alive," Torres told CNN.
Last week, Torres wore the isoBLOX cap while pitching the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Foster says the cap, which was approved in January by MLB, is a reaction to the risk facing pitchers after releasing toward home plate.
"There have been some vicious hits, line drives that come back to the pitcher," says Foster. "Brandon McCarthy, Alex Cobb -- to name a few -- have been seriously hurt."
According to the company website, "The cap is fitted with uniquely-formulated protective plates that use a combination of dispersion and absorption techniques to diffuse energy upon impact with a high-velocity object."
"This is a plain cloth hat; our isoBLOX liner goes inside of it," says Foster. "It's a little thicker than the normal hat."
The protective caps have padding against the forehead and the temple regions, the most vulnerable for a pitcher.
Foster says the goal is to prevent traumatic brain injury.
"You're talking about a fractured skull," says Foster.
Looks aren't everything
Torres wore the cap in practice for three or four days to make sure it was comfortable and didn't interfere with his delivery. During his first outing, the cap remained firmly in place.
Foster says the protective technology is sewn into the cap, and each cap is custom-fit for the individual player.
The protective cap looks larger than standard caps, with the pads visible through the material.
"I think a baseball cap itself weighs three or four ounces," says Foster. "This adds about seven ounces to the overall weight of the cap."
During Torres' initial appearance, play-by-play broadcasters commented on the bulky appearance of the cap, saying it's "not sexy" and questioning whether fashion-conscious players would be willing to wear the isoBLOX cap, even with its safety features.
"We've always said that the look is going to be different, and it's going to look different until it doesn't look different any more," says Foster.
Other protective headgear has endured wary responses, before becoming standard sporting equipment, says Foster.
"Just like the original batting helmet, and hockey helmets -- everything will look a little different until it isn't different any more."
A similar product for youngsters, isoBLOX Skull Cap with Impact Protection, is already on the market.
See Alex Torres' first appearance wearing the protective cap.
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