Major League Baseball announced on Wednesday that all batters have begun using a new S100 ProComp helmet manufactured by Rawlings, and within only a few hours of the announcement it was put to a test in an at-bat involving one of the game's marquee players.
Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins was struck in the back of his new S100 ProComp by a fastball from top prospect Jose Fernandez during a simulated game in Jupiter, Fla., although in his case it was not a direct blow. Stanton is undergoing further examination to make sure he has nothing more than a bruise to the back of his neck.
The mandatory implementation of Rawlings' technologically advanced helmet is outlined in the five-year collective bargaining agreement signed in November 2011 by MLB and the MLB Players Association. About 200 players elected to wear it last year before the league-wide rule went into effect this week at Spring Training, where exhibitions begin on Thursday.
"I'm sure the science and design is a lot more involved," Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes said. "I'll tell you what, the safety of the game is important. This isn't the NFL by any means. I'll tell you what -- 95 miles an hour in the head isn't a good thing. If we can protect us, protect the players, help the game be a little safer, that will be good."
Constructed of aerospace-grade carbon fiber composite, the new helmet provides enhanced protection for ball strikes up to 100 miles per hour -- compared to 68 mph for its predecessor. Earlier this week, the innovative Rawlings S100 Pro Comp helmet design was named a finalist for the Edison Awards in the category of Material Science-Composites. The Edison Awards honors excellence in new product development and innovation.
The helmet is 300 percent stiffer and 130 times stronger than the traditional ABS plastic helmet that was the previous standard in MLB, yet features a significantly lighter and smaller design than previous S100 models that have been tested in recent years. The similarities in weight and size to the traditional helmet allow for a seamless transition to this model for all MLB players.
"Collectively with MLB and the MLB Players Association, we developed the Rawlings S100 Pro Comp batting helmet to provide increased protection for the world's best baseball players, while meeting their specific functional and performance demands," said Art Chou, senior vice president of product for St. Louis-based Rawlings. "The evolution of the Rawlings S100 product line clearly illustrates how we can deliver innovative protective solutions at the very highest level of the sport while still delivering high-performing equipment so these players can continue to play at their peak levels."
It is a more streamlined version than the oversized helmet David Wright had been wearing occasionally since 2009.
"Protecting our players with the latest innovations in protection equipment is a top priority of Major League Baseball," said Dan Halem, MLB senior vice president of labor relations. "Last year the Rawlings S100 Pro Comp received a great reception from the MLB players that chose to wear it, and we're pleased to take the next step and roll it out league-wide."
At the Brewers' camp, outfielder Carlos Gomez was among the first to attest to the new helmet's strength. He tried to destroy one with a baseball bat and failed.
"I tell you what, man, this helmet is tough," said Gomez, who voluntarily wore the S100 last season. "One time I got ticked off and I threw this like seven, eight times against a wall, and then I swung with my bat, and that thing won't break. I guarantee you this.
"I've tested it myself."
And now Stanton has as well, although involuntarily. It did not appear to be a direct blow.
"It's happened before, and it will happen another time," he said. "It hit me first, and the helmet decided to come in after the impact."
He made light of the situation later and tried to put Fernandez at ease, but it was a scary moment made for a good helmet.
"When I saw it, I got nervous," Fernandez said. "I got nervous, not pitching. I know it was over 95 mph. I know it was. It's a scary moment."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. MLB.com reporters Ian Browne and Adam McCalvy contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.