"Mask On Mask Off?
The number of questions we've gotten recently on what to do with the catcher's mask on a popup has been astounding. It's been quite the hot-button issue this Summer.
I had this debate with my father years ago and I was insistent on taking it off. I told him that I had never seen an MLB catcher leave it on. He kept telling me "son, just go outside and try it." Now in all fairness, I was a two-piece guy my entire career, and would never think of leaving the mask on, hockey-style or not. For me it just wasn't even a consideration.
One day we got into a heated discussion about this play and we agreed that I would go out to the field the next morning, and field a few pop-ups with the mask on. Funny thing happened that night. Before we could ever get to the experiment, I was watching a Phillies vs. Cardinals game and saw both Carlos Ruiz and Yadier Molina field sky-high pop-ups with their masks on in consecutive innings. My dad just leaned over and grinned.
While we were at the field the next day he asked me "Jay, you love hockey, right? Well have you ever seen a shot from the blue line deflect straight up into the air?" Naturally, I said yes. "And did the goalie then feel the need to take his mask off?!?!" We laughed, but the point was made.
Catchers, if you are wearing the "hockey-style" masks you do NOT need to take the mask off. In fact, those masks are designed to allow you to see just fine. If you've never understood how this might be possible, head out to a field and have someone throw a bunch of balls into the air for you with your mask on. You WILL be able to track and follow the balls path and set yourself up to make a clean play. Keeping it on serves two purposes. One, it saves a bunch of time. And two, it eliminates any risk of tripping on your helment after you take it off.
For some of you younger catchers, the weight of the helmet might be too much. In that case, and only that case, does the mask need to come off, but make sure you don't ditch it until you have located the ball. Otherwise you risk throwing it to the ground at a spot you might very well be headed.
Now ladies, simply put...NEVER take it off. Ever. Popups in the girls' game do not go as high as in baseball. There is just no time to take it off, find the ball, set up and then make the catch. Often, popups in softball are dinks and dunks over the catcher's shoulders, requiring a much quicker approach to the ball.
In either case, and to reiterate the point, the masks are designed to be left on. Yes, even in the case of popups.