Harper, Trout, more hitters try face guard
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.”
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.