From Little League to the Big Leagues, one thing is certain: no ballplayer is immune to injuries. They come in many forms from head to toe. Most we can prevent; however, some are inevitable the faster and harder the game comes at you.
In this article we will work from head to toe with some baseball (and softball) equipment specific to preventative maintenance.
The head holds our brain which is arguably the most important part of baseball, hence The Mental Game (see “Hitting Before You Step in the Box“). Our favorite pros are wearing Major League fitted helmets with the now ubiquitous ear flap. The younger kids through college and even most minor leagues are rocking the double ear flap helmets. These are not only used by players, but coaches on the base lines, too. The 9in. 5oz. pearl hurts when zooming at you at high-rate speeds. Get the Mach helmet from RAWLINGS for $55-$80 to protect your skulls. Catchers, check out the Force3 Defender mask with its shock absorbing system at $240, worn by Yasmani Grandal.
Eyewear is important, especially when glaring into the 27 million degree fireball for a flyball, (real sun fact). Sunglasses can also help with dirt blowing from the Sandlots to Wrigley Field and you can field your next ground ball with less distraction. Bo Bichette has elite swag in his 100% Hypercraft, $165 at Dick’s.
We are seeing more mouth guards in baseball to help protect our grill. Unless you are ex-Big Leaguer Mike Pelfrey wearing one to keep your tongue in your mouth, so you don’t tip your fastball, your best bet is to err on the side of safety. Major Leaguers are not just protecting their million-dollar smiles, they are saving a potentially astronomical dentist bill. Parents know the struggle with kids and dentist trips, so don’t forget the extra precaution. Get the SISU AERO mouth guard for $19.99 at BASEBALL EXPRESS. Trying not to catch the ball with your face also seems to help.
Next up, besides our brains, this one may be the most important part of the body, the shoulder. You cannot play baseball or softball without one until AI proves otherwise. Keeping the shoulder healthy and in shape is a duty for every ball player at any age or level. A solid throwing program and band routines are two of the best ways to keep this complex body part in shape. Two-way athletes at younger ages struggle with the fine line of overuse and underuse. Being thrown all over the field with no throwing program is a recipe for disaster. Saving arms with no throwing routine is equally as damaging! Arm care is cheap folks, way cheaper than surgery or a career-ending injury. Get the renowned J-bands from Jaeger Sports ($34 at Baseball Express). J-bands are legendary among top flight pitchers, and a must for any serious hurler. I used a number of these movements in my career as a pitcher.
Weighted balls are another way, with experienced coaches and programs, to improve shoulder strength. This can be a touchy subject with debate linking to elbow injuries, but just do your research on how to train with them. Take responsibility for your arm and career. BASEBALL EXPRESS carries a CHAMPRO set for $29.95.
Light dumbbell work is also beneficial pre or post throw. Again, find a solid program. DICKS SPORTING GOODS carries 1-5 lbs. dumbbells (each sold separately) and that’s all you will need, no matter how strong you are. Even the best big leaguers pride themselves on the throwing motion and more specifically mechanics for pitchers. Strengthening all of the small muscles in their shoulder and elbow help to endure the unnatural pitching motion and the abrupt (and often damaging) deceleration required on every pitch. Its imperative to focus on the muscles around the shoulder, and you can do that with light weights.
Justin Verlander is shown here with the Connection Ball from YOUGOPRO BASEBALL ($11.99), another method to hone your skill set and protect your arm. The Connection Ball offers many opportunities for training proper mechanics that go beyond the scope of this post, but I encourage you to Google it as there are great demos out there. The basic concept is to isolate and train body mechanics. For example, Justin Verlander holds the ball between his wrist and shoulder to remind him not to extend his arm too early in the throwing motion, ensuring proper mechanics.
An elbow injury like tearing the ulnar collateral ligament can put you out for years, or worse. While Tommy John seems like a great option for pros, not every doctor is James Andrews and you’re far from guaranteed to come back throwing 102. The zipper scar might be cool, but is it worth it?
Like the shoulder, J-Bands and proper throwing mechanics can help keep your elbow healthy.
Compression Sleeves are often used to help with soreness, swelling and recovery with a little helping of swag. Get the EvoShield Adult Solid Compression armsleeve at BASEBALL EXPRESS for $17.95. For a better cold weather option, get your own number embroidered on a heavier cotton sleeve at CustomNumbered.com for $30.
A batter’s elbow guard can help you increase that OBP fearlessly and prevent a freak injury or just awful soreness after you get dotted in the tricep. Ronald Acuna Jr. is protected with swag in a gold customized EvoShield Guard.
The Wrist & Hands
Hurting your hand or wrist in baseball can be a season killer.
Catchers especially need to protect the hands & wrist. The All Star Pro Lace On Wrist Guard ($30), which laces on to the heel of your glove, is an absolute gem of a product for catchers. If you’re a good blocker of the baseball, then this is a product you’ll appreciate. For your hand and thumb, you can try an inner glove, or the Evoshield thumb guard. This is a very nuanced area for catchers and we see MLB catchers using a number of solutions to protect their hands.
Head-first slides are not faster, and they are more dangerous than sliding feet-first, but they enable the swim move and many of the best baserunners slide head-first. Head-first slides are safer with an oven mitt or a sliding wrist guard — depends if you’re concerned about your fingers or wrist. Dick’s has an Evoshield oven mitt for $50 to protect the fingers, and an Evoshield Sliding Wrist Guard is available at Evoshield.com for $45.
As a hitter, too many guys lose seasons because of a hit by pitch on the hand. Its not an easy area to protect, but G Form offers a possible solution in the Pure Contact padded batting gloves for $50.
The most used product in the MLB, the ProHitter Hitting Aid, is available at BASEBALL EXPRESS for $11.95. The ProHitter protects the thumb while hitting when pitchers really start to ramp up the velo. If you are still learning to hit, this guard can help with a more confident swing. It’ll also save you if you get one off the handle on an early spring day in Chicago. Bonus Use: I played with a guy who put his thumb guard on his keychain in case he dropped his keys in the lake. Disclaimer **I have not tested if they float**
Below the Belt
CUPCHECK!!!! Always protect yourselves and knock before you walk onto the diamond or training facility. Get a Mueller Adult FlexShield protective cup at BASEBALL EXPRESS for $6.99.
For our ball players that can swipe bags…. sliding compression shorts or pants. Shop the many sliding shorts at EASTBAY—maybe go for 3/4 length if your wounds usually show up on your lower legs. Lastly, thank your field crew every day (or maybe help out?) and you might not leave with watermelon sized wounds after every slide.
Legs are a huge part of the game and they’re your biggest, most powerful muscles. They’re your foundation. For hitters, pick up shin, ankle, and foot guards for the most painful foul balls from EVOSHIELD and customize to your team colors. The Pro SRZ Batter’s Leg Guard covers them all for $69.99. Dominic Smith added his own flare to the straps.
Knee savers are great for catchers that are dealing with knee issues or still getting comfortable in the squat. As a coach, I love using knee savers while catching my students’ bullpens. Get ’em (Easton Ali-Med Catcher’s Knee Saver) at BASEBALL EXPRESS for $26.95 and squat comfortably like 2012 NL MVP Buster Posey.
Finally, the feet. Molded cleats might be preferred over spikes for health reasons or for necessity. Big Leaguers, for example, are throwing off pristine mounds and playing on immaculate dirt, so for them, molded is viable. You can check out the latest cleats worn by Big Leaguers here. If you are playing in a “sandbox” or on concrete clay, and we have all been there, it’s best to have some traction to keep you balanced and prevent injury. You want the cleat or turf to be snug to the heel with some width for your toes so you can grab the ground. That is where our power originates in all facets of the game. Check out these sick Nike React Vapor Ultrafly Elite 4’s at EASTBAY for $100. Bo Bichette & George Springer fly around the diamond in these.
For those that feel confident that they’ll have enough traction in molded cleats, try the New Balance 4040v6 for $90.
Final Note: Practice Prevents Injuries
Closing this out like Mariano… Practicing your craft will always help you stay sharp and ultimately help you prevent injuries. Tools like the Great Hands Training Glove aka “pancake” from RAWLINGS can help with good angles on ground balls. This glove helps you achieve Lindor-like soft hands for $31.99. That way, you are fielding more balls instead of wearing them. Pitchers and Outfielders, throwing regular bullpens and long toss will increase arm strength and protect your arm long term. Get in a good daily routine, hydrate, eat well, sleep well, and take care of your body. You and only you are accountable for your career, so protect it.