Six days before the first anniversary of the scary episode in which he suffered a concussion on a line drive that struck his right ear, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Alex Cobb said Monday he is about to endorse the isoBLOX padded insert for the caps of budding baseball and softball players.
Cobb said in a phone interview that he considers it vital for youth pitchers to feel that wearing protective padding in caps is "not abnormal" and that they learn they have something that can become second nature.
"I want to be a part of the evolution toward introducing this successfully at the big league level and I think the best way to do it is by starting at youth ages," he said.
4Licensing Corp., majority owner of manufacturer Pinwrest, announced plans for a Tuesday news conference to introduce Cobb as an endorser of its isoBLOX Skull Cap, made in three youth sizes and worn by boys and girls under adjustable or stretch caps. The product was released last month with a price of $59.99 at exclusive retailer Dick's Sporting Goods.
A liner off the bat of Kansas City's Eric Hosmer, reported by Grantland's Jonah Keri to have traveled at 102.4 mph, hit Cobb's head in a game June 15, 2013. He was sent to the hospital on a stretcher, was put on the seven-day concussion disabled list and ended up missing two months of action.
Cobb says he thinks that with a padded cap, he wouldn't have suffered even the slight concussion doctors said was too small to detect on an X-ray. As first reported by "Outside the Lines" in January, an isoBLOX padded cap insert received approval by Major League Baseball, but when some big league pitchers expressed dissatisfaction with the product's added bulk and altered cap appearance, the company said it was continuing to refine the insert.
Cobb, according to a 4Licensing Corp. spokesman, will be a key tester of any of its new prototypes designed for major league usage. Cobb said he is among about 60 pitchers receiving updated custom-fitted caps to try out and review. The soft-padded inserts, according to the company, are made of "plastic injection-molded polymers combined with a foam substrate" and are designed to diffuse energy upon impact through a combination of dispersion and absorption techniques. The inserts for youth caps, the spokesman said, are not up to the 90 mph protective threshold of the product tested and approved by MLB.
Pitchers' protection from line drives to the head was most recently a prominent issue when Cincinnati reliever Aroldis Chapman was struck March 20 in a spring training game and suffered facial fractures. Chapman missed the start of the season but returned to the mound for the Reds a month ago.
"My optimism is through the roof," Cobb said about progress toward major league pitchers wearing isoBLOX padding. "The biggest thing is to further the process for technology to catch up, where we can wear it without altering mechanics or comfort -- this is the best step."
As "Outside the Lines" has reported over the past two years, MLB says it has not tested or considered giving formal approval to protective products that extend below the cap line, although that area is the most frequent point of impact for liners that have struck big league pitchers in the head in recent years. But any protective headgear, including below the cap line, is permitted as long as it doesn't interfere with competition.
Cobb, who said his agreement with 4Licensing is for three years but hopes it will be longer, didn't rule out expanded protective head covering in the distant future. He said the issue of pitcher safety is a marathon.
"We have to focus on the first mile, then the steps will get easier. The hardest part has been done [getting approval from MLB and the players' association], and now it's going to evolve into something that will please everybody," he said.