Helmet is big on safety, not style

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. --- One ballplayer says he can't even stand to see his own reflection. Another says he feels like some creature wandering outer space. "Gazoo" is the term of choice for this latest sports look.

New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli is the only major leaguer who wears the new S100 batting helmet, which can take pitches up to 100 mph and are required in the minor leagues.   FRANK FRANKLIN II/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FRANK FRANKLIN II/ASSOCIATED PRESS
New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli is the only major leaguer who wears the new S100 batting helmet, which can take pitches up to 100 mph and are required in the minor leagues.

Minor league baseball is bulking up on its helmet size this season, promising unprecedented safety. But the new helmets, which can withstand pitches up to 100 mph, are emphatically not winning any fashion points with players.

In short, they hate 'em.

"I don't even look in the mirror," said Justin Turner, an infielder for the Norfolk Tides, the Triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. "I think they're ridiculous."

"I've been hit in the face in the College World Series. There's got to be a way to put more protection in the helmet and not have them look that atrocious," he said.

The Rawlings S100 helmet is must-use equipment this year throughout the minors. Noticeably bigger than what the major leaguers wear, it includes an expanded liner made of polypropylene, a foamlike material that's also in some bicycle helmets.

At a time when head injuries in sports have drawn greater attention -- on Monday, there was a congressional hearing on NFL concussions -- the S100 is being touted as a breakthrough in injury prevention.

In reality, there's just about a half-inch of extra padding all the way around. But to many players, that makes them hugely unpopular.

New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli is the only big leaguer wearing one on a regular basis. He had already sustained a couple of concussions when manager Joe Girardi persuaded him to pick safety over style.

"It's ugly," Cervelli said in spring training. However, "It's not about how it looks. I've got to take care of myself."

Cervelli's choice also brought him a new nickname: "Gazoo." That comes from "The Great Gazoo," the tiny green character in The Flintstones with the giant space helmet.

Teammate Derek Jeter recently tried Cervelli's helmet for a couple of swings in batting practice and quickly ditched it.

All-Star third baseman David Wright of the New York Mets landed in a hospital in August after getting beaned by a 94 mph fastball from San Francisco's Matt Cain. Wright wore the S100 when he returned to the lineup -- for a day, anyway -- and six S100s were sent to each major league team for its players to try out for the rest of the season.

With the helmets optional in the majors, the new shell is a tough sell in a sport where players strive to look good.

Cincinnati third baseman Scott Rolen suffered a concussion when he was beaned last season. The Reds gave him one of the concussion-resistant helmets to try when he came back, but he found it too uncomfortable.

Kansas City catcher Jason Kendall has been hit by pitches 251 times, among the most in major league history. Still, he's not switching.

"When you've got somebody throwing 95 mph and hits you in the helmet, it's going to ring your bell," Kendall said. "But you've got to be comfortable. You don't want a 10-pound helmet on your head."

According to Minor League Baseball, more than 2,000 batters have been hit by pitches in the minors this season. Statistics on how many of those were beanings are not kept, spokesman Steve Densa said.


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