Posada looks for equipment edge

Posada on cutting edge of catching technology

TAMPA, Fla. -- On the first day of camp, Jorge Posada rifled through boxes of gear sent to him from Nike.

From one, he pulled out a shiny new face mask.

The silver metal glistened in the glaring fluorescent light of the clubhouse.

And Posada beamed in appreciation. The 35-year-old catcher held the cage in his hands, turning it over, flipping it into the air, catching it, and nodding in agreement.

He then passed it over to his locker neighbor, fellow catcher Todd Pratt, for inspection.

Pratt mirrored Posada's reactions.

The two smiled at each other and Posada said, "Pretty good, huh?"

What could cause such an awesome encounter?

A new titanium mask engineered and crafted by Nike, which is as light as a feather but is 10 times stronger than steel. The rods are smaller to help catchers see through better and the durability is, according to Posada, endless.

Posada should know, considering he now is a part of the engineering team, so to speak.

The mask is just one of many innovations in equipment that Posada has aided through the design process over the last few years.

"They've allowed me to be an integral part from the beginning stages," said Posada, who has been working directly with Nike scientists over the last three years to upgrade catching gear. "The mask is unbelievable. I don't think there's been a better mask than that one. They sent it to me towards the end of last year so I could test it and it's amazing."

Posada has gone to the Nike headquarters in Portland, Ore., during the offseason the past two years to give suggestions and to listen to new ideas from the engineering team. He has worked specifically with the Nike Sport Research Lab (NSRL) to figure out ways to improve everything from chest protectors to cleats.

The NSRL is a state-of-the-art center where designers are devoted to bringing products to the market that take athletic performance beyond the next level. The lab works with professional athletes in every arena to develop and test the newest in sport technology.

This past November, before he and his wife, Laura, and two children, Jorge Jr. and Paulina, traveled to Europe, Posada went to the NSRL to offer ideas on furthering the development of catching equipment.

In addition, he was fitted, or "molded," with his new shoes in a process called foot morphology. Posada stood in a clay-like substance which formed exactly to the contours of his feet. Nike then created a personal version of the Shox Monster Metal cleat that Posada could slip into at anytime during the season which would give him a worn-in feel.

Posada raved about the material and manufacturing of the shoe. The cleat is made of a lightweight synthetic upper and a perforated quarter panel for ventilation to keep cool with an insert in the sock liner that keeps the feet cool and dry. The shoe also looks modern and cooler, as well, both literally and figuratively.

Two lockers away, while Posada discussed the newest innovations, non-roster invitee catcher Ben Davis slipped on a pair of cleats that a shopper would typically find at the local sporting goods store.

"He definitely has some different stuff," said Davis, who spent last year in the Minors.

Davis, 29, who played four seasons with the Padres, is a counterexample of how Posada has emerged as one of the elite players at his position. When asked if he's able to participate in the discussion on innovation, Davis shrugged and quipped: "Not really."

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound catcher, though, did detail how his knee- and shin-guard protector is usually too short and doesn't cover the knee, forcing him to call Rawlings to replace them with longer ones.

But, for Posada, his reputation and status have given the 11-year veteran an opportunity to redefine the game.

"It's something that will help not only myself, but other players in the league and, eventually, the main consumer," Posada said.

Posada will also go to battle this year with a new type of chest protector that has padding that is smaller and lighter but also stronger and more durable than in the past. It also is created of microfibers that pull the sweat away from the body, keeping the catcher dry during the hot days of summer.

Posada said that Nike watches video of him and analyzes the way he catches the ball and blocks the ball to create the type of chest protector and shin guards which allow him to catch with ease.

It's all a part of Posada becoming part of the new age of sports.

But just in case anyone thinks that Posada has moved on from tradition, he still continues to wear a backwards helmet underneath his titanium mask when catching.

He grew up a Thurman Munson fan and he's insistent on keeping it that way, despite all the other new technology he sports each day now.

"No, that's something that will never change," Posada said.

Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.