Baseball’s protective hat should be a no-brainer for pitchers

Jun 21, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres relief pitcher Alex Torres (54) pitches during the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Petco Park.  

Jake Roth/Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Say this for Padres reliever Alex Torres: We do not know where the future will take this promising 26-year-old left-hander. But we do know a part of him already has made it to the Hall of Fame.

His cap.

Yes, that goofy looking thing that makes his head look top-heavy and rivals gawk and joke.

And, you know, the thing that eventually might save a life in the major leagues.

So far, nobody else is wearing the prototype protective cap that major league baseball has developed to prevent what happened to former Padre Chris Young, the Rays’ Alex Cobb, the Diamondbacks’ Brandon McCarthy and the Reds’ Aroldis Chapman from happening to others.

A picture of the staples in Aroldis Chapman’s head after he was hit with a comebacker during a 2014 spring training game.

But that’s not stopping Torres, who has worn the cap in his past five outings and has no plans to abandon it now.

"I don’t really care what others think," says Torres, a friendly, soft-spoken native of Venezuela. "I just care about myself.

"If I don’t put up zeroes out there because I’m hurt, then I can’t make money."

Torres came to the Padres along with starter Jesse Hahn in a January trade from Tampa Bay, which is where his trailblazing ways trace back to.

It was Torres who was summoned from the Tampa Bay bullpen last June when Rays starter Alex Cobb was drilled in the skull by an Eric Hosmer line drive. Cobb missed two months with a concussion and vertigo. Torres pitched 1 2/3 innings immediately thereafter and earned the victory.

But it wasn’t the "W" that stuck with Torres.

"When I came into the game, he was already on his way to the hospital," Torres says. "That was a really tough moment, after the pitching coach [Jim Hickey] said I was going to pitch after that happened.

I prefer to look ugly than to hear from other players, ‘Sorry you’re on the disabled list.’

San Diego Padres pitcher Alex Torres on wearing the protective hat while pitching.  

"I was really shaking. My legs were shaking. It’s not easy to take that off of your mind, especially when you’re there. It was a really bad moment. A really bad situation.

"I don’t want to spend three or four months on the disabled list, or to not be able to play baseball again."

MLB officials toured spring training in February and March with an early prototype of a protective cap that was greeted with great interest and overwhelming apathy. No thanks, most pitchers said. Good idea, but way too cumbersome.

What you’re seeing now is a refined version of that idea.

The Padres received the current version of the cap from the manufacturer in early June, and Todd Hutcheson, the club’s head athletic trainer, has been wearing it regularly during batting practice ever since.

"My whole plan was, nobody was ever going to wear it because it looks silly," Hutcheson says. "So my goal was to desensitize guys to it so they won’t [mock] it."

SAN DIEGO, CA – JUNE 22: Alex Torres #54 of the San Diego Padres models the protective pitchers hat prior to the game the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Petco Park on June 22, 2014 in San Diego, California.

Slowly but surely, the Padres have become accustomed to the cap and rarely anymore does Hutcheson hear any wise cracks.

But Torres has.

When he first debuted it against the Dodgers on June 21, Los Angeles reliever J.P. Howell razzed him with, "Damn, man, you look so ugly in that."

And Dodgers set-up man Brian Wilson cracked, "Are you bringing your speakers home with you, or what?" Because it looks like a small book or something is tucked inside the cap on each side of the head to protect the temples.

Like Brian Freaking Wilson, of all people, with that shoe-polish-enhanced beard, and that Mohawk, and that stringy long hair and all of those tattoos, has any room whatsoever to critique what another human being looks like.

Know what Torres told them? This: "I prefer to look ugly than to hear from other players, ‘Sorry you’re on the disabled list.’"

You can define courage any number of ways, but one of them surely is to act on your convictions and do what you think is right despite what others around you think. Kids, you could do a whole lot worse than to remember THAT around the ol’ schoolyard.

"It goes well beyond the game, wearing a protective hat," Hutcheson says. "It says a lot about our society. Without going too deep, you hear a lot of comments."

Anyone who remembers Young hitting the ground after Albert Pujols’ line drive connected with his forehead at Petco Park on May 21, 2008, can understand why Torres is wearing the cap … and why others should follow suit.

Torres, in fact, received a text from his former Tampa Bay teammate David Price shortly after Price saw Torres wearing the cap in a game on television.

Torres said the text read along these lines: "Funny. Ha ha ha. You look like a Super Mario. That’s awesome. You look really good. Keep doing what you’re doing."

"I asked him in a text back, ‘Are you going to wear it?" Torres said. "He said, ‘I don’t think so. Maybe later.’ I said, ‘You should use it because you’re a starter. You pitch longer. I only pitch one or two innings.’

"As a starter, you never know. It can be today, or tomorrow."

You never know. Exactly. Which is why it is incumbent upon MLB to continue to refine the cap as best it can, and why other pitchers should feel a responsibility to follow in Torres the Trailblazer’s path.

This extends way beyond baseball. A guy gets drilled in the head, it affects wives, children and other loved ones.

"Everyone knows," Torres says, "a line drive on my head, that maybe will cost me my life.

"That’s why I wear it."

It’s a no-brainer. At least, it should be.

Meanwhile, Torres’ original protective cap was scheduled to arrive in Cooperstown this week.

Here’s to hoping that, maybe one day, it won’t be such a novelty.

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