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Safety must always be the first priority

February 23, 2012

For those of you watching some spring training games and wondering why the sun is reflecting off the baseball caps worn by the base coaches, it's because they aren't made of cloth, they are helmets.

Beginning in 2008, Major League Baseball required all coaches to wear batting helmets while standing in the coach's box at first and third base.

This rule is in response to a very unfortunate incident that occurred several years ago when Tulsa Drillers' coach, Mike Coolbaugh, died after being struck in the head by a line drive as he stood in the first-base coach's box during a game. Everyone in the country heard about it. One league, a Major one, did something about it.

My hat's off (helmet's, actually) to Major League Baseball for throwing away a tradition in the game that is just no longer safe. In addition to the mandatory helmet rule, coaches must also stay within the confines of the coach's box, a rule that has always been in place, but rarely ever enforced. Now, it's supposed to be.

But what about implementing this rule at lower levels of baseball, say American Legion, high schools, youth leagues, etc.? I've seen plenty of balls hit hard enough to do serious damage if they ever hit someone in the head.

Youth leagues and high schools make players who are coaching first base wear helmets, why not the adults? A lot of the coaches I've seen in those boxes are slower than the kids and less likely than a player to get out of the way of a line drive. We've all seen at least one adult tumble out of the way of a line drive, and probably even get hit by one -- just in a place that did minimum damage.

Batting helmets are not expensive compared to a lot of other sports equipment. And even if they were, I think you'll agree it's worth the price. They don't have to be the uncomfortable ones with the ear flaps on them (although that would be safer). The helmets being worn by MLB coaches look and fit just like caps.

If I was running a league, I'd approach a local business or company to buy them, two per team. What a great opportunity for a local business to get some great community relations press. The league could even put the company logo on the helmet somewhere for everyone to see.

Leagues might encourage coaches to wear the helmets, but my guess is very few leagues will implement this rule, arguing tradition and cost. That is until something serious happens. It's unfortunate, really. It shouldn't take a death to implement a rule to make the game safer.

Actually, unfortunately, it already has.

Reach Jon Buzby at and follow him on Twitter @JonBuzby.



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