If you watch a couple innings of baseball today, there is a strong chance you will see the catcher take a couple foul balls off the mask or chest.
So, it is hard to imagine a time when the number two position on the field did not have protective amenities, such as a mask and helmet, that modern catchers have.
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Wilder still is that catchers in the late 1800’s did not even think a facemask or helmet were necessary until a pitcher, by the name of Harold Ernest, invented the curveball.
Since the trajectory of this pitch was much less predictable than a fastball, foul tips and hard-to-handle balls were much more frequent.
In 1877, Fred Thayer created the first facemask; it resembled a birdcage around the player’s head.
Since Thayer’s first mask, the catcher’s headgear has been constantly evolving. It would be sometime after that before catchers began wearing helmets under their masks.
It was not until 1997 when Charlie O’Brien, a catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays at the time, wore the first poly-carbon helmet-mask combination that we see most catchers wearing today.
The equipment looked very similar to a hockey goalie mask and quickly caught on because players found it provided the best protection and overall field of vision, despite being heavier than traditional masks.
When making a purchasing decision on a catcher’s helmet, the first choice to make is the type of headgear that fits your personal preference.
The full head masks are increasing in popularity at all levels of play, but plenty of the pros disregard the extra protection and field of view because they want a mask that is lightweight and easier to remove when gunning down a batter stealing a base.
There’s no right or wrong answer when choosing between the goalie-mask-inspired equipment or the more traditional mask and skullcap helmet.
However, some semi-pro, amateur and youth leagues require the full protective helmets because they are largely considered safer.
No matter what type of mask and helmet combination you choose, there are some qualities to look for in your chosen brand and model. Perhaps most important is the headgear’s durability.
Not only do they have to withstand the impact of fouled off balls, but many times, especially when a runner is stealing a base or during a past ball, the helmet and mask are thrown off roughly.
Low-quality materials may not be able to handle the day-to-day abuse that this type of equipment needs to handle.
The other essential feature is the equipment’s fit. During a game, catchers are constantly removing their helmet during past balls, stolen base attempts, between batters and sometimes between pitches.
Without a perfect fit, the helmet will be hard to remove and will not create a comfortable feel during the game.
Since fit is so crucial when it comes to catchers equipment, it is always a good idea to make a purchasing decision at your local sporting goods store, rather than online, because that allows you to try the gear on beforehand.
If you are shopping online, then ensure they have a return policy before pressing the checkout button. Even though every mask and helmet combination are adjustable to a point, everyone’s preference and head-shape is different.
If you do not like the fit of new headgear, do not expect that it will get better once you “break it in”; you should return it and choose a new piece of equipment.
Following are some of the leading brands and models of catcher’s masks, helmets and other headgear available.
Even though it is less than a decade old, Under Armour has become a top-selling manufacturer of sporting equipment and athlete-inspired clothing.
They quickly made a name for themselves by offering innovative, high-tech sportswear using materials that breathe and wick sweat, even during intense workouts. Their sporting equipment follows this same innovative design.
Under Armour Youth Solid Baseball Catcher’s Helmet
The Youth Solid is UA’s offering for a catcher’s mask. It is available in a solid color or two-tone pattern and uses the hockey-goalie-inspired design.
Again, fit is crucially important and this headgear boasts a one-size-fits-all size adjustment.
The Youth Solid’s mask uses an I-Bar Vision cage that helps improve the field of view of the catcher behind the plate.
The shell of the helmet is an injection-molded ABS material that delivers extreme protection from mishandled or fouled balls, while remaining lightweight.
Inside the helmet is soft and breathable padding, which helps reduce sweating and increase comfort.
In addition, a bacteria-fighting Aegis Microbe Shield keeps the headgear fresh and clean, even after an extra-inning game.
While these features make the Under Armour Youth Solid Baseball catcher’s helmet a standout product, its main drawback is its high price-point.
Easton specializes in baseball and softball gear and equipment from bats to gloves and catcher’s equipment. Their gear is specialized for all levels of play, even the professional level.
Unlike Under Armour, Easton offers a number of different catcher’s helmets, including both traditional masks and skull caps and the more modern, fully enclosed, mask-helmet combination.
Speed Elite Traditional Catcher’s Facemask
For a traditional mask, Easton delivers the Speed Elite, which is more lightweight compared to the hockey-style helmet but still offers a good field of view.
The CCX Grip Skull Cap is worn with the Speed Elite and is equally durable, plus well ventilated to help limit sweating behind the plate.
The CCX comes in eight different color options to help match any team’s uniform.
Mako Catcher’s Headgear
For a fully enclosed helmet, Easton has multiple products. At the top of the line is the MAKO Cather’s Helmet.
This model is used even in the Major Leagues and for good reason. Easton has redesigned their MAKO series to improve its ability to protect, fit and breathe.
The helmet features carefully placed vents that improve the flow of air to keep your head cool during play.
When you are hit by a foul tip, the MAKO Zero Shock cage mask eliminates the disorienting vibrations and allows you to get your head back in the game sooner. The rear cap has a smooth radius, so it can be removed quicker than similar products.
Plus, this headgear is made with a high-tech Hyperlite EPP foam, which provides superior strength-to-weight durability and protection.
Other Easton helmets include (in order of price from highest to lowest) the M10, M7 Gloss and the Black Magic.
As the helmets get cheaper, the quality of materials goes down and reduces the strength-to-weight properties.
Ideally, you should look for a happy median between an affordable price and a helmet with enough integrity to withstand your level of play.
Best Easton Catchers Helmets
Similar to Easton, Rawlings specializes in baseball equipment, although they have branched out to other sports, such as football and basketball.
Their catcher’s helmets include the Renegade Coolflo and Matte Coolflo. Both pieces of equipment are hockey-style helmets, although Rawlings also sells a Pro Catchers Helmet skullcap that can be worn with any traditional mask.
The main difference between the two helmets is the matte versus gloss finish. However, there are a couple other small changes between the two pieces of equipment.
Both hockey-style masks have the Coolflo venting design, which has fifteen separate holes that allow air to flow through the helmet. This helps reduce sweat and keep your head cool during play.
Also, both masks have moisture-wicking interior padding, which further improves the gear’s ability to reduce sweat.
The rubberized Matte Hockey Style Coolflo Catchers helmet has a lighter cage in the front, but offers equal protection to the Renegade. It also has a superior chin pad.
Every Rawling’s hockey-style mask is adjustable for a one-size-fits-all piece of equipment. With its improved features, the Matte Coolflo mask costs slightly more than the Renegade does.
Best Rawlings Catchers Helmets
Wilson is another specialty sporting equipment outfitter. They manufacture products for a variety of sports, including tennis, golf, basketball and baseball.
When it comes to catcher’s helmets, Wilson delivers multiple choices for traditional and hockey-style headgear.
On the traditional side, there is the Dyna-Lite Catcher’s Facemask, with either titanium or steel construction. The titanium mask is considerably more expensive than its steel counterpart is, but is 20% lighter. Both masks have an old school look to them and matching skullcaps that are sold separately.
In terms of hockey-style helmets, Wilson offers the Shock FX 2.0, Shock FX 2.0 Varsity Edition and the Prestige.
The top-of-the-line helmet is the Shock FX 2.0, which comes in seven different color schemes. It also includes a water-resistant carry bag and a name/number label stick.
As the premier Wilson helmet, it is the only product to have high-quality leather chin padding and Dri-Lex moisture control system.
Every type of Wilson catcher helmet has strategic venting holes to help increase airflow through the helmet, but only the Shock FX 2.0 helmets feature a floating mask design, which uses four contact points to improve energy absorption.
Best Wilson Catchers Helmets
Shock FX 2.0
All-Star is a relatively unknown brand when it comes to sporting equipment because they specialize in only baseball and softball. This specific focus allows them to craft purchase-worthy products.
All-Star only offers the hockey-mask helmets and do not supply a traditional mask style. However, their masks range from youth to adult use and each one is clearly marketed for its intended purpose.
All-Star catcher’s helmets range from the MVP 4000TI (titanium) to the MVP 1000. The lower numbers, while not specifically designed for youth leagues, will fit most catchers in youth or intermediate leagues.
The higher the numbers get, the more specialized and higher quality they become. This also influences their pricing.
The MVP 4000TI is specifically designed for college or professional-level play. It is engineered to withstand ball speeds over 100 miles-per-hour and features a sweat controlling liner and titanium cage that offers competitive protection with a lightweight design.
Helmets in the 2500 range are suitable for college or semi-pro levels of play and have an I-BAR VISION faceguard that helps improve the catcher’s sight.
The midrange All-Star MVP catcher’s helmets are made from an ABS plastic that protects against high impacts. The inside has a breathable mesh liner to control sweat.
Best All-Star Catchers Helmets
Headquartered in Japan, Mizuno makes a line of impressive catcher’s helmets that are used by some of the top players in the Major League. The company offers full enclosure helmets and traditional facemasks.
The G2 Classic Catcher’s Mask has a hollow construction for a super lightweight, yet protective, piece of equipment. Mizuno boasts that it is one of the lightest steel-cage masks in the industry.
The interior is moisture-controlling leather made from natural cowhide that is soft and comfortable. The G2 facemask comes in four different colors and includes a throat protector.
For hockey-inspired masks, Mizuno delivers with the Samurai G4, which has three layers of foam padding for an impressive weight-to-protection ratio.
During long hot games, the helmet’s ventilation system helps create airflow inside the facemask, cooling your head and improving overall breathability inside the mask.
The lower part of the mask is adjustable to fit the soft padding comfortably around your jaw line. Not only does this protect you from jaw and chin, but it helps provide an even snugger fit on your head.
Best Mizuno Catchers Helmets
The catcher’s job has never been an easy one. Easily the roughest position on the field, these players are constantly in the danger zone for errant foul tipped balls and even bats.
Not to mention the collisions that can occur at the plate between catcher and base-runner.
Thus, having a comfortable, durable and, most importantly, protective facemask and helmet or a fully enclosed combination is crucial.
While an affordable price is always a priority, a good and long-lasting catcher’s mask should have a few other qualities. At the top of the list are the product’s fit and durability.
A catcher removes his or her mask several times during a game. If the fit is not just right, the mask will be uncomfortable on your head and hard to remove, which is crucial when a runner is stealing a base.
During these situations and others, the catcher’s helmet is tossed off quickly. Thus, it not only has to withstand impact of balls and other objects, but also constantly being tossed and kicked around.
In order to get the most use out of your helmet, you may want to purchase one with higher-end materials that can withstand this abuse.