For some reason, I've been receiving a lot of questions about the catcher's mask, mostly regarding when to leave it on and when to take it off.
So without further delay, here's my simple catcher's mask protocol. Please note, some of these guidelines will differ depending on the type of mask you're wearing (hockey style or traditional) and your level of play.
- Play at the plate -- leave it on. Period. If you can see an 85 mph fastball with the mask on, you can see a ball coming in from the outfield. Trust me, you want that protection.
- Pop fly - here's one that depends on your level of play and type of mask worn. Normally I'd advise to take the mask off and find the ball. However, if you play in Little League or below, you probably won't have time to do this since pop flies generally don't soar high enough. So if you're playing Little League, just leave the mask on and catch the ball. If you're above that level and wear a hockey style mask, it's up to you...either take it off or leave it on. The reason for this is the hockey-style mask will stay snug to the head and won't shift around as you run and look up. If you wear a traditional mask, rip it off, turn your back to the infield and catch the ball.
- Blocked pitch in the dirt -- take the mask off and bounce on the ball to throw. Once again, since the hockey-style mask is so stable and won't shift around and impede your eyesight as you bounce on the ball, it's up to you if you wear that style.
- Bunt -- see above.
- Steal (throwing out base stealers) - leave the mask on. Unless I'm running, you don't have time to flip it off.
- Passed ball/Wild pitch -- this is the pitch or throw that gets past you. Take the mask off and recover the ball.
- Disagreement with the ump over a pitch -- This one requires tact and a delicate touch. For this situation, always leave the mask on and look straight ahead (never back at the ump) as you voice your opinion. Taking the mask off or turning your head back is considered "showing up" the umpire, (illegally) arguing balls and strikes, and a quick ticket for ejection.
So that's all I've got for you about the mask. Hopefully this covers just about any situation a catcher might encounter.
Till next time, have fun, play hard, and keep your eye on the ball....
Brent Mayne is a 15-year veteran of the Major Leagues. He ranks 75th in the history of baseball with 1,143 pro games caught, and his .993 career fielding percentage is 4th all-time. Brent is the author of the book "The Art of Catching"--a comprehensive guide to teaching and building defensive catching skills.