Pirates pitchers have varied opinions about new protective headgear

Rob Biertempfel
| Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016, 7:48 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — After testing new protective headgear during his bullpen session Sunday morning, reliever Jared Hughes said he might use it all season.

“I'm going to keep wearing it and see how it feels,” Hughes said. “I'm going to give it every chance.”

However, Mark Melancon and some other Pirates pitchers are not as enthused.

The cap has a lightweight carbon fiber shell — it weighs only about 10 ounces — and resembles a visor with an ear flap. It's manufactured by Boombang, a California-based firm, under a joint initiative by MLB and the Players' Association.

Hughes and Melancon are among a handful of major league pitchers who were asked to test the gear during spring training.

Instead of a regular cap, the pitcher wears a thin skullcap underneath the headgear. The design makes it seem like the player has an extreme flat-top haircut — or perhaps only half a head.

“It looks funny,” Melancon said. “Just because of the looks, it might not be something that I wear during the season. As shallow as that seems, and I'm definitely not that guy … I don't know. I'm just not there yet. Give me a little time, and maybe I'll get there.”

Hughes offered a more positive review.

“I didn't feel it on my head. It felt like a normal hat,” Hughes said. “When I weigh the pros and cons, the only thing that's bad is that it might not look normal and I'll get teased, which I couldn't care less about. It's going to keep me safer, and it feels comfortable.”

The headgear is not as bulky as previous devices, which were built into or wrapped around regular baseball caps.

The design is open on top, which helps keep the pitcher's head cool. The ear flap can be on either side, depending which way the pitcher turns as he follows through off the mound.

Last season, Hughes nearly was struck in the face by a line drive. He has been intrigued by the headgear since first hearing about it in 2012.

“I think it's something more guys are going to try,” Hughes said. “You want safety. It's going to be tough to start trying it because it's not something you're used to. But they probably said the same thing about batting helmets, too, and those ended up saving lives.”

Melancon never has been struck by a liner.

“But every year there's one that you hear go by you,” Melancon said. “All you need to see is one person (be struck).”

Sitting at his locker, Juan Nicasio took a few glances at the headgear and listened to Hughes' sales pitch. When he pitched for the Colorado Rockies in 2011, Nicasio was struck by a line and fractured a vertebra when he fell.

There is a scar on the back of Nicasio's neck where doctors inserted pins and secured a metal stabilizing plate.

“Sometimes, it's still scary,” Nicasio said. “But when you go to the field, you can't think about the past. All these years I've played baseball, and it was only one time when the ball hit me like that. I don't think about. I just go play.”

Nicasio isn't sure whether he will use the new headgear.

“The past few years, everybody has talked with me about using one, but I didn't feel comfortable with it,” he said. “I don't want to pitch when I'm wearing something on my body that makes me uncomfortable.”

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel @tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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