Baseball: New batting gloves promise to protect hands
By RONALD BLUM
AP Sports Writer
Omir Santos tried on his new batting gloves, said to slow the impact of a harmful fastball down to the mere annoyance of a junkball, and voiced excitement.
“I think it’s going to help,” the New York Mets catcher said. “It sounds like it’s going to work.”
The latest high-tech protective product in a sport that’s slow to accept innovation, the batting gloves are manufactured by the startup company XProTeX, which hired former All-Star Reggie Smith to go around spring training trying to persuade big leaguers to switch.
Bob Watson, Major League Baseball’s vice president of on-field operations, said his department already has given its approval, which is necessary for all on-field gear.
“We looked at the data. No, I didn’t put it on and take a fastball,” said Watson, a former All-Star himself. “Now, is this going to stop all major injuries? That I can’t tell you, but according to the data, it should cut down on broken bones and severe injuries coming from pitched balls.”
XProTeX was formed by X Bats president Jack Kasarjian, whose company is known for supplying maple bats to major leaguers and — at about $100 each — to youth ballplayers. After consulting the former president of the motocross equipment company SixSixOne, Kasarjian developed an impact-absorbing material called Advanced Impact Composite.
The model that was taken to spring training is the 14th generation.
“Essentially it will reduce the impact by over 60 percent, so a 100 mph fastball will be reduced to that of a 39 mph fastball, which is the difference between in a cast and being a little bit sore,” he said. “It’s really an area where players are very vulnerable. Their hands are their most important tool in baseball. If your hands are injured, you can’t hold the ball, catch a ball, hold a bat, hit a ball.”
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon examined the gloves this week and thought back to Sept. 7, when Rays slugger Carlos Pena was hit by a CC Sabathia pitch, breaking two fingers and ending his season. Pena had an AL-leading 39 homers at the time along with 100 RBIs.
“Carlos would have hit 45 home runs last year if that glove actually works,” Maddon said. “Most of the time, changes like that move at a glacier pace. Guys don’t want to be the first one to try it. Somebody’s going to try it and going to get hit and they’re not going to break their hand or wrist, and all of a sudden everybody’s going to want it. Or conversely, if somebody’s not wearing it, and they do get hit and get broken, he’s going to want it.”
Protection does come at a price.
A quick check online shows batting glove prices for previous models run from about $5-$50.
XProTex’s top-of-the line Raykr retails for $80. It is made specifically for right-handed or left-handed batters, and has AIC protection on the outside of the hand and wrist, and the inner wrist. A step down is the $50 Hammr, which has less protection, and then there is the $35 Dinger, a symmetric model that protects the wrist only. There also are pads for catcher’s mitts and baserunners (to prevent their fingers from being hyperextended).
Smith says players have responded positively when he shows them the equipment.
“It’s exceeded our expectations,” he said. “It’s the difference of being injured or being a little sore so they get to stay on the field.”
But even if the gloves fit, that doesn’t necessarily mean players wear them.
Kasarjian says the large equipment corporations are obstacles.
“The agents have been steering players toward these bigger companies because the companies are offering the players who are up and coming in the agents’ stables deals in return for delivering the major leaguers,” he said. “We’re kind of bucking the culture, but we’re getting people’s attention really quickly. Everybody is now seeing one or two players on their team and they’re asking for them.”
Rawlings S100 helmet, touted as being able to withstand pitches up to 100 mph, is mandatory in the minor leaguers starting this year. The Mets’ David Wright tried it for two games when he returned from the disabled list after getting beaned by a 94 mph Matt Cain fastball, then decided it was too bulky and went back to his regular helmet.