Historic padded hat headed to Hall

Countless Cooperstown exhibits are a testament to how a single shot off the bat can decide a game, change a season and leave a lasting mark on history.

But the latest display in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's "Today's Game" exhibit features a piece of equipment that's intended to prevent a batted ball from having much effect at all. The item is in use by one major league player and was unseen before 2014.

That newly added artifact to the Hall's "This Year in Baseball" case is the isoBLOX padded pitcher's cap worn June 21 by San Diego reliever Alex Torres. The product received Major League Baseball approval in January.

"His cap represents an important moment in baseball's changing technology to protect the player," said Hall of Fame vice president Brad Horn.

Torres, a 26-year-old left-hander from Venezuela, has been wearing such a cap since that night. ESPN initially reported Torres had worn the padded cap for every appearance since June 21, but according to the Padres, he was not able to wear it when the team wore its military uniforms in early July because the matching cap was not yet ready.

The manufacturer says the padding adds close to six ounces to a standard 4.6-ounce official MLB New Era cap. And the increase in width from the approximately one-quarter of an inch standard ranges from a half-inch in the front to three-quarters of an inch on the sides.

"I'm proud of it going on display at the Hall of Fame, it's a good moment," Torres told "Outside the Lines" through interpreter Jose Valentin, the Padres' first-base coach. "It's a good step forward to send a message to pitchers and all of baseball about safety, and I want to be a messenger."

In June, Torres said he was deeply affected by what he saw just over a year before when Alex Cobb, then his teammate with the Tampa Bay Rays, was struck in the head by a line drive and suffered a concussion. Cobb is now an endorser of the isoBLOX padded cap inserts for youth baseball and softball use but still wears a standard cap when he pitches.

While neither Torres' padded cap nor his head has taken any blows off bats to date, some players have taken verbal and Twitter shots at the headwear's oversized appearance.

"I don't care how I look, I care about the protection," Torres said. "It might be a while before we see more pitchers using it, but the cap feels good, and I hope to see people join me next season and the cap refined further."

Mark Panko, president of 4Licensing Corp., whose subsidiary Pinwrest is the manufacturer, said in August it is working on refinements and is getting feedback on custom-fitted caps it has given to Cobb and about 70 other pitchers.

As reported by "Outside the Lines" last month, MLB and Major League Baseball Players Association officials said they've retained an engineering and consulting firm to explore new options for head protection for pitchers. From then-Oakland Athletic Brandon McCarthy on Sept. 5, 2012, to Miami's Dan Jennings on Aug. 7, seven big league pitchers were struck in the head by line drives.

On one night last week, two similarly chilling scenes at home plate served as reminders that even batting helmets don't offer complete safety from baseballs traveling at high speeds, as fastballs struck both Miami's Giancarlo Stanton and the Yankees' Chase Headley in the face.

"You never know what's going to happen, the same thing can happen to pitchers," Torres said. "Maybe in the future we'll see headgear for baseball players like what football players wear."