Harper, Trout, more hitters try face guard

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Sports -

Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Kris Bryant — they’re all the face of Ma­jor League Base­ball.

How about Herb Mark­wort? Haven’t heard of him? He’s the per­son help­ing pro­tect those faces.

Tune into any game th­ese days and you’re bound to see hitters wear­ing hel­mets with a seven-inch piece of plas­tic — the C-Flap — curv­ing around their cheek and jaw.

Gian­carlo Stan­ton, Car­los Cor­rea, Miguel Cabr­era and Yadier Molina are among the many con­verts, with more and more bat­ters mak­ing the switch each month.

“I think there’s a lot of first-time guys this year. Me, Trout, Cabr­era,” Harper said. “You can go on and on. A bunch of guys.”

Most, like long­time star Han­ley Ramirez, offer the ob­vi­ous rea­son: “Safety, that’s it,” he said.

Makes sense, too. For a while, hit-by-pitch rates this sea­son were the high­est they’d been since the early 1900s.

“Just to be maybe a lit­tle bit more com­fort­able in the box,” Harper said. “Guys are throw­ing a lit­tle bit harder and you see guys get­ting hit in the head a lit­tle bit more. Just try­ing to be pre­cau­tion­ary. Rather have it there if I get hit than not.”

Tampa Bay in­fielder Brad Miller sees a ben­e­fit be­yond ex­tra con­fi­dence.

“It kind of acts like a scope. I know that might sound a lit­tle ex­treme, but it helps get you fo­cused — at least it does for me,” he said. “You have some­thing phys­i­cal to re­mind you to sharpen your fo­cus. That’s just my unique twist on it.”

Whether it’s the tun­nelvi­sion view be­tween the flap and helmet brim, or purely pro­tec­tion, that’s fine by Mark­wort.

He runs the Mark­wort Sport­ing Goods Com­pany in St. Louis, a fam­ily busi­ness founded by his father in 1931. In 2004, the firm bought the C-Flap from Robert Crow, who had de­vel­oped the de­vice three decades ear­lier when he was the At­lanta Braves’ team doc­tor.

For a long time, only a hand­ful of play­ers used them. They got a big en­dorse­ment last year from Milwaukee’s Keon Brox­ton, who suf­fered only minor in­juries af­ter the face guard in­ter­cepted a fast­ball.

“That C-Flap, man, that thing just saved my life,” Brox­ton said postgame.

This sea­son, the hard plas­tic piece with the foam pad­ding that sells for un­der $25 has sud­denly be­came hugely pop­u­lar in big leagues.

“There’s no doubt about it,” Mark­wort said last week from his of­fice, as mid­night neared. “We’ve been so busy.”

“They keep or­der­ing and or­der­ing. It’s ‘Rush, rush, we need ’em!’ ” he said.

Rawl­ings, also based in St. Louis, is the ex­clu­sive helmet maker for MLB. It buys the C-Flaps from Mark­wort, along with seven lit­tle nuts and screws to at­tach them.

Up to three holes are drilled in the helmet for assem­bly and then, painted in team colors, they’re game ready.

“Last year, it seemed like it was about one per team,” said Mike Thompson, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing at Rawl­ings. “We’ve quadru­pled the num­ber we’ve sold this year.”

Carolyn Kaster / As­so­ci­ated Press

The Na­tion­als’ Bryce Harper walks off the field af­ter ground­ing out in a May 5 game against the Phillies. Tune into any game th­ese days and you’re bound to see hitters wear­ing hel­mets with a seven-inch piece of plas­tic — the C-Flap — curv­ing around their cheek and jaw.

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