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New helmet required in minors in 2010

NEW YORK — David Wright has been reduced to a spectator since a beanball sent him to the hospital two weeks ago. The New York Mets slugger hopes to return to the lineup Tuesday and isn't taking any chances.

He's planning to wear Rawlings' bulky, new S100 batting helmet if it arrives in time for the game at Coors Field.

"I imagine they got some pretty smart people that designed them so I'm sure it works pretty good," the All-Star third baseman said. "If it provides more safety, then I'm all for it."

The helmet has drawn some barbs. Chicago Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster wore it and said it felt like "my own bobblehead day."

No matter, Minor League Baseball and the St. Louis-based company announced Monday it will be required in the minors beginning next season. Six S100 helmets are being sent to each major league team for its players to try out for the rest of this year.

The thicker protection features a composite insert and an expanded liner made of Polypropylene, a hard, supportive material also used in some industrial and bicycle helmets. It faced extensive testing over the last two years that included an air cannon firing major league balls to ensure it would hold up.

"We're confident that it will withstand a pitch up to 100 mph," said Mike Thompson, Rawlings senior vice president for sports marketing and business development.

Several major league players could have used that extra protection in August.

Wright was hit by a 94 mph heater from San Francisco's Matt Cain, and Reds third baseman Scott Rolen also landed on the DL with a concussion. Blue Jays shortstop Marco Scutaro returned to the lineup Sunday for the first time since he was hit in the head by a pitch from Red Sox right-hander Josh Beckett on Friday night.

Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler was lucky. He was upset but OK after a fastball from Boston reliever Fernando Cabrera bounced off his shoulder and struck him in the batting helmet.

"It's one of those things that happens," Rolen said. "Nobody's out there trying to throw at guys' heads — that's the idea. We'll go out there and compete. I mean, we drive home every day, too, and that's not real safe."

There also was a scary play in July, when Padres infielder Edgar Gonzalez was hit in the head by Colorado's Jason Hammel. The impact was so severe that Gonzalez thought the pitch didn't hit his helmet and said he "felt my brain move backward."

Even with the inherent danger on the field, Rawlings' heavier helmet could be slow to catch on. Major leaguers are very attached to their equipment, preferring a specific weight and feel for everything they use so they're certain of their balance at the plate and on defense.

"I understand the need for it, and Rawlings is coming out trying to make the product, and I have an appreciation for that as well," Rolen said. "It will filter through, and we'll see if it works. Everybody has their own thing and their own way of going about things."

Mets outfielder Jeff Francoeur examined the new helmet and said it's too bulky and uncomfortable. He also questioned its effectiveness against a high-and-tight fastball from one of the majors' top pitchers.

"You get hit with a 94, 95 in the head like that it's going to hurt — no matter what you're wearing, I think," he said. "You can say all you want that it's all protective, but at the same time it doesn't seem like anything can fully protect you, you know?"

Pitchers were hit by comebackers in two of the most brutal plays this season. On the same day Wright and Kinsler were struck, Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda crumpled to the ground after taking a liner off the right side of his head. Kuroda, like Wright, spent the night in the hospital and said he felt lucky to be alive.

Giants right-hander Joe Martinez was sidelined with a concussion and three hairline fractures in his skull after he was hit in the head by a line drive by Milwaukee's Mike Cameron on April 9.

"You just pray every day that you can stay safe and nothing ever happens," Yankees reliever Phil Hughes said.

Dempster tried Rawlings' new helmet in Chicago's 11-4 victory over New York on Saturday. He went 0 for 2 with a walk.

"I don't really think the fear of me getting pitched inside is too great," he said. "I just thought I'd try it out to see how it felt. It felt like my own bobblehead day today. I have a big enough head as it is. They could probably see that from the top of the Sears Tower."

Manager Lou Piniella thought Dempster looked worn out from wearing the helmet when he lumbered around the bases to score from first on Milton Bradley's third-inning double.

"I put it on for about 30 seconds and I need a massage myself," Piniella said. "But he's Canadian and he probably has worn that type of helmet playing hockey, but boy it's heavy."

While the majors may be slow to adopt the new helmet, Monday's announcement means baseball's top prospects will have to get used to the sturdier protection.

Rawlings already is the majors' official helmet provider and Thompson said the company didn't expect major leaguers to "do cartwheels" over its newest product.

"Our position is we're providing a helmet that is safer than any other helmet on the market and it's up to the player whether they want to wear it," he said. "If they want to wear it, great. If they want to stay with their current model, that's great too."