At this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game, you might have noticed a trend among some of the sport’s top hitters.
Players such as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper had an extra attachment to their helmet. The protective shell attaches near the ear flap and goes down to the player’s jaw. This is known as a C-flap. It’s designed to help protect a batter’s cheek and jaw from any pitch that might hit them in that area.
Trout and Harper were among 10 players in this year’s Mid-Summer Classic to wear the C-flap. This helmet add-on has become popular among baseball’s best hitters. Currently, the C-flap is not allowed for most amateur players. But with more young baseball players wanting to look like their favorite pro player, a recent USA Today article reports that an effort is being made to give kids a chance to wear the C-flap.
Protecting batters’ faces in baseball and softball is nothing new. Batters in both sports have long worn cages that attach to the batting helmet to protect their faces from any sort of pitch that could cause facial damage. Those cages usually attach to the helmet on both sides and look similar to a football facemask.
While the cage is commonly found at the youth level, MLB players have not followed suit. Most hitters go to bat without any facial protection.
That’s changing with the C-flap.
Robert Crow, a retired plastic and reconstructive surgeon, developed the attachment in the 1980s, according to an ESPN.com article from April. The first notable MLB player to wear the C-flap was Oakland catcher Terry Steinbach. Coming off facial surgery following a pitch to the face, the C-flap allowed him to return to the field quicker, he said. He showed off the product on a national stage in both the 1988 All-Star Game and World Series.
“For me, it was all about being able to get out there and play again,” Steinbach told ESPN. “It was basically, if I wear it, I can play now. If I don't, I have to wait another three-and-a-half weeks.”
For the next few decades, however, the trend did not catch on. Players occasionally wore it following a facial injury, but that was it. That’s now changing, as players such as Trout and Harper have decided to wear it to prevent a facial injury.
With top pro players adding the C-flap to their baseball wardrobe, it’s likely younger players will want to emulate those in the majors. However, it’s not that easy.
Most amateur leagues, including Little League and the NCAA, have been advised against adding a C-flap to his or her helmet. Most baseball leagues follow the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment’s policy on equipment.
The organization wrote in May that players are advised against any add-ons to their baseball or softball helmets. If a player were to add a C-flap to their helmet, they would need to drill holes in the helmets to screw on the flap. That means the helmet is no longer identical to the one that was certified by an organization such as NOCSAE.
Companies such as Rawlings have identified this issue and are working to get around it and give players the chance to wear the C-flap. The company is currently working on a helmet that will come pre-assembled with the flap, according to the ESPN.com story. The only thing left for Rawlings to do is get approval from NOCSAE.
“Our helmets will be certified,” Mike Thompson, Rawlings’ executive vice president for marketing, told ESPN.com. “The holes will be pre-drilled. If the kid wants to just buy the flap, he can do that; if he wants it pre-assembled, he can do that. We've contemplated all those angles.”
Though this flap is just a few inches long and can look just like an accessory on a batting helmet, those who have worn it have sung the praises of the C-flap. This includes Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Keon Broxton, who was hit in the face by a pitch in early 2017.
“That C-flap, man,” Broxton told MLB.com, “that thing just saved my life.”