Mask On/Mask off?
Recently, I made a post on social media about taking the mask off or leaving it on for plays at the plate. Lets have a conversation about the topic...
Tag at the Plate Debate: Mask on or Mask Off?
This is a bit of a hot topic among catchers, catching coaches, parents, and head coaches.
Should catchers keep the mask on or should catchers take the mask off on a play at the plate?
Before we go any further, I’m going to tell you what I did as a player in pro ball, college, high school, and below.
I did both.
There were times where I felt like I needed to take my mask off so I could see the ball better and make a better play.
Is that the right thing to do?
There is no right answer.
And that answer might be different for every single person who asks it.
Here is the argument…
Lots of coaches will argue that you HAVE to leave it on for EVERY tag play at the plate. They say this exact line, or something really similar, “if you can see to catch a pitch with a mask on you can see to catch a throw with a mask on."
This line always reminds me of that movie dodgeball….”if you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a ball!”
Probably some of the most ignorant, terribly thought out advice I have heard. Apparently those coaches have never caught before and never tried to catch a ball while they were on the move.
I caught for 18 years of my life. Catching a pitch is extremely easy with a mask on. The ball is directly in front of you. Your head is pointed directly forward. Your eyes are pointed directly forward. Seeing the ball is extremely easy. Your head and vision stays in the same plane the entire pitch.
Not the case with every tag play at home.
When there is a play at the plate, the catcher is having to move out of the crouch, having to find the ball somewhere on the field, then having to make a play on the move. Because of all of these factors the head is moving.
That makes it a little more difficult to see the ball with the mask on while catching a throw from a position player.
Not to mention if the ball bounces. You track the ball with your eyes. If your eyes look all the way down then the padding of the mask will be in your line of sight.
Kinda hard to see the ball.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am in no way making a case for taking the mask off. I’m simply giving you something to think about regarding plays at the plate and you get to make your own decision on how to perform this play.
So, we have determined that taking the mask off to see better is not really that far fetched of a thing for someone to claim. It really is easier to see the ball.
Now for the safety argument.
What is safer? Taking the mask off or leaving it on?
Well, if you're talking about protecting the face, then it's a no brainer, leave the mask on.
Obviously if you leave the mask on, you will have way less likelihood of sustaining an injury to your face or get a cleat to the head. The ball also cannot hit you in the face or head.
It still may hurt you if the runner hits you in the face with a mask on but you won’t be breaking a nose.
But, is it altogether safer? An argument can be made that a catcher who cannot see well is actually in more danger.
Sight is a pretty important sense that catchers use to determine what they will do on a play at the plate and it helps catcher position themselves more safely than if they can't see.
So, what do I recommend?
Simple answer, kids should leave the mask on to better protect their heads until they reach a point of aptitude and a reasonable adult decides it is ok for the kid to remove the mask.
If we are talking about a grown man who can make his own decisions then sure, he can take his mask off and accept the consequences. But I highly recommend all young players keep the mask on to stay safe.