In the wake of several recent harrowing beanings of Major League batters, Rawlings Sporting Goods is introducing a reinforced, heavier batting helmet designed to withstand 100 mph fastballs. The aptly named S100 helmets will become mandatory wear in the Minor Leagues next season. But Rawlings has shipped six of them to each of the 30 Major League clubs for immediate field testings.
New York Mets third baseman David Wright is set to make his comeback from an Aug. 15 beaning by Matt Cain on Tuesday wearing the new headgear. Chicago Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster became the first player to game-test the S100 in Saturday's game at Wrigley Field against the Mets. The S100 features enhanced protection from a composite insert and an expanded liner made of Polypropylene, a hard, supportive material that is also used in some industrial and bicycle helmets. Rawlings has subjected the new model to extensive testing over the last two years, including firing Major League balls at it from an air cannon to ensure it would hold up. "We're confident that it will withstand a pitch up to 100 mph," said Mike Thompson, Rawlings senior vice president for sports marketing and business development. Cincinnati third baseman Scott Rolen and Marco Scutaro of the Toronto Blue Jays have also been recently sidelined with concussions resulting from being hit in the head by pitched baseballs. However, the S100's development and release hardly is in response to those incidents. In fast, the model has already been available to the public through select retailers and team dealer locations. The S100's large-scale debut will come later this year, when play begins in the Arizona Fall League. By 2010, it will be mandatory in 16 Minor Leagues and for 185 Minor League teams. The first Major Leaguers to try the helmet noted the added weight and expressed some concern about comfort levels. "It felt like my own bobblehead day," Dempster quipped after wearing the helmet both in the batter's box and on the bases. "I have a big enough head as it is. They could probably see that from the top of the Sears Tower." Although expressing confidence in the old-style batting helmet he had been using, the Mets' Wright approached his trial of the S100 with an open mind. "I had no issue with the new one," Wright said. "If it's safer and a better option, I'm all for it." MLB itself sounded grateful that steps are being taken to enhance the protection that will be made available to its players. "We are gratified that Rawlings has developed a helmet that will offer increased protection for baseball players at all professional levels," said Tim Brosnan, MLB's executive vice president for business. "The availability of the S100 helmets for MLB players this season and the Arizona Fall League later this year is timely, topical and important," Rawlings' Thompson said. "Many of today's pitchers consistently hit the radar at 90-plus, so safety in the batter's box is at an all-time premium. The S100 helmet will answer that need at all levels of baseball."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.