White Plains softball head coach Ted O’Donnell could do nothing to prevent a ground ball from taking a bad hop and hitting third baseman Christina Coppola in the mouth in 2008, but he wasted no time in seeing that it wouldn’t happen again.
That night he ordered five protective face guards for each of his infielders and pitcher, which he paid for out of pocket, and made them a mandatory part of the uniform during practices.
The protective masks currently cost anywhere from $30 to $90, but for O’Donnell, it was a small price to pay. “I just put it on my credit card,” he said. “You’re not going to wait to put in the budget for next year.”
Although required at practice, a decision met with some initial resistance by players, O’Donnell let his players use their own discretion for when the Tigers played regular-season games. Within two weeks, the team captains approached him and asked if the masks could be worn during games.
There was no resistance from O’Donnell.
Today, all varsity and junior varsity White Plains softball players wear the protective mask during games. O’Donnell said the trend is even catching on at the Little League level.
“They come and they watch the varsity players play — the same kids that I use to run my clinics throughout the year… and they see all these kids who they look up to and they’re like, ‘They’re wearing face guards, so it’s OK to wear,’ ” O’Donnell said.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association now requires all adult coaches to wear a hard-shell helmet while on the first and third baselines after the motion was approved during the NYSPHSAA’s executive committee meeting on Oct. 15.
The action for softball was initially tabled in June, when it was approved for baseball coaches. There is currently has no rule in place by Section 1 or the state that requires fielders to wear protective face guards.
“We hated it, when we first got it,” North Rockland assistant coach Andrea Martorelli said of the coaches’ helmets. “It can’t hurt. It’s not pretty on anybody, any of us girls, but at the end of the day, if any of us were to get hurt — God forbid. It can’t be that terrible.”
Martorelli, a former Journal News player of the year during her time as a pitcher with the Red Raiders, said she would want all of the players — particularly pitchers, first basemen and third basemen — to wear a protective mask, even if it’s not mandatory by the section or state.
“I was hit by a line drive in college — broke my arm, lost my whole season — and I’m terrified of it now for that to happen to any of these kids,” said Martorelli, who played Division II ball at nearby St. Thomas Aquinas College. “The game has evolved so much. It’s crazy how much better these kids are, how much work they put in, how much the bats are so much crazier.”
North Rockland third baseman Victoria Alonso must wear a face mask through the rest of the season after a bad hop during practice broke her nose.
“Even though the mask, for some people, might not be comfortable or what they want to wear, in the long run, you never know what’s going to happen,” said Alonso, who admittedly hates wearing her mask. “You never know when that one ball at that perfect time is going to get you.”
Pitchers are most likely to wear a mask in the field, although some first and third basemen also opt to wear one. Those who do — like Pearl River all-state junior Emily Turilli — and those who don’t — like Manhattan-bound hurler Kayla McDermott of North Rockland — have both found tremendous success in the circle.
“My mom really, really wants me to wear one. She’s upset that I don’t,” said McDermott, who has experimented with the equipment during travel ball. “It’s too bulky, and the visibility is poor, so I just decided to not use one.”
Female athletes already get knocked by some for being delicate, fragile, even substandard beings compared to their male counterparts. The use of face guards in the field and at-bat for softball does little to help break that stigma, especially when no baseball players (other than the catcher, of course) wear protective gear on their face.
“You’re not ‘soft’ to want to be safe,” McDermott said. “You wear it so you can continue to play, so that you feel protected and you have that confidence where, ‘I’m not going to get hurt,’ so I can make these plays — I can dive, I can do anything — and I don’t have to have another thing I’m worried about.”
There’s no pride in having your face shattered by a comebacker.
Ask Bryce Florie.
Or Alex Cobb.
Or Bryan Mitchell.
It doesn’t make you any tougher to play without a protective mask, and it doesn’t make you any weaker to wear one.
Anyone who thinks that softball players are “girly” for wearing a protective mask should look at the NBA, where the likes of Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have all rocked a face mask at some point during their playing careers.
New York Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer, arguably the most physical player in the league while with the “Bad Boy Pistons” during the 1980’s, even wore a protective mask.
Call any of them girly. Maybe one of them will lend you their face mask afterwards.