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New batting helmets safer, can withstand 100 mph pitch

7:00 AM, Feb 21, 2013   |    comments
David Wright tries on a new batting helmet in 2009 after he returns from a concussion when he was hit in the head by a pitch.(Photo: David Zalubowski, AP)
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GOODYEAR, Ariz. (USATODAY.com) -- The Great Gazoo helmet is gone. The small Gazoo helmet is here to stay.

Starting with Friday's exhibition games, major leaguers must wear the new Rawlings S100 Pro Comp batting helmet, which provides protection for pitches up to 100 mph.

The helmet, a bit bigger and 1.3 ounces heavier than the previous standard, was rolled out on a volunteer basis last season and about 200 players opted to wear it, giving it largely positive reviews.

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Use of the new helmet is now mandated by the collective bargaining agreement.

"It's much improved. I'm on board,'' Cincinnati outfielder Jay Bruce said. "Anything that makes the game safer and doesn't completely alter your feel at the plate, I'm all for.''

At 18 ounces, the S100 Pro Comp is nearly five ounces lighter than the original S100, the first to increase protection from 68 to 100 mph.

Players found it too heavy and bulky, though - it's 28% larger than the standard, as opposed to 6% for the redesigned one - and complained of looking like the Great Gazoo character in the Flintstones cartoons.

When coming back from a concussion in September 2009, New York Mets third baseman David Wright tried the S100 for two days before ditching it, saying it didn't feel right.

Art Chou, senior VP of product for Rawlings, said MLB and individual players provided input regarding feel and aesthetics for the redesign.

"We took it into consideration as much as reaching the 100 mph protection level,'' Chou said. "If it's too heavy and bulky, players are not going to want to wear it. And if it looks funny, players are not going to want to wear it.''

Rawlings reduced the size and weight while keeping the enhanced protection by making the helmet shell out of an aerospace-grade carbon-fiber composite instead of hard plastic. It's the same material used in the new Boeing Dreamliners, though Chou assured there's no danger of the helmets self-igniting.

Bruce's teammate Brandon Phillips has been vocal in his dislike of the new helmet, saying it feels too heavy and big.

"I know it's something I have to get used to, but some things you just don't like,'' Phillips said. "I've used it in batting practice and I had to go to the trainer's room because my neck was sore."

During Wednesday's simulation game at Miami Marlins camp, Giancarlo Stanton was hit in the back of the new helmet by pitching prospect, Jose Fernandez.

"I wasn't dizzy," said Stanton, who doesn't expect to miss any playing time. "I saw a little grayness and fuzziness on the outside of my eyes, but it's subsiding now."

Contributing: Associated Press

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