I drove past a park in town the other day and noticed two young boys playing catch with a baseball. One of the young boys was wearing a batting helmet that appeared to be about six sizes too big for his noggin.
Boy, did that bring back some great memories.
I remember as a youngster playing what we called “Little League,” having a heck of a time finding the appropriate head gear to wear.
For starters, our small-town team could only afford four helmets. And that made sense since each hitter and base runner was required to wear protective headgear. So, with a hitter at the plate and the bases loaded, all you would need would be four helmets.
The problem was the helmets came in three sizes. There was one small helmet for those kids with really tiny heads; two medium helmets for us average guys; and one large helmet for the boys with big melons.
And, when all four helmets were needed, that presented an issue. Regardless of your head size, you had to wear what was available.
That sometimes meant squeezing into the small helmet. That was not a fun experience as that helmet would pinch your head so tight your ears hurt and your eyes were compressed to the point you would be lucky to focus on the pitched ball.
I’m not sure that was better or worse than having to wear the large helmet, which was so wobbly because of the extra space that when you swung the bat and moved your head the helmet would wobble. Sometimes the helmet would fall over your eyes as the baseball approached home plate. Talk about a difficult way to make hand-eye contact with the pitched ball.
Thinking back on that experience, I now think I know where they came up with the idea of bobble heads!
Then there was the issue of having to share a helmet with a teammate who may have had issues with perspiration. Often you would slide on a helmet and the excess moisture would run down your forehead. Granted, young boys are not that into hygiene so we really did not worry about that too much. However, thinking back on those times, it kind of makes me shudder.
It’s no wonder that major-league players have their own helmets with their numbers emblazoned on them. Big leaguers are too rich to have to suffer like we did.
Besides, can you imagine your Minnesota Twins playing a game and Joe Mauer comes into score and tosses his helmet to Justin Morneau who is waiting in the on-deck circle? Not only would it look ridiculous, it would probably lengthen each game by a half hour or more.
I can understand why we were required to wear helmets as base runners, but as a youngster, we thought that was a stupid rule. Often, those helmets fell off as we ran the bases. Sometimes we assisted them in coming off to make it look like we were running at the speed of light.
As bad as our team had it, I always felt bad for the kids in a nearby town. They didn’t have the traditional batting helmets like most of the modern world used. Their helmets resembled the headgear worn by high school wrestlers. They had ear covers but nothing else except straps, which ran over the top of the head and under the chin.
I’m sure the devices they wore did the job of protecting the ears and temples, but they looked so goofy it was hard not to laugh. I actually felt sorry for them when we beat them.
But when we lost to them, it just made me want to tease them all that much more.