Last July during a travel league game, former Elmwood Park High School pitcher Ashley Pais suffered severe injuries to her face when she was hit by a line drive.
In addition to the broken orbital bone and cheekbone and the dislodged jaw, Dais has suffered some memory loss. Though such devastating injuries are rare in softball, the Elmwood Park School District made the use of facemasks mandatory for all infielders in middle school and high school.
Despite that example, few local infielders will be wearing facemasks as the section playoffs begin today. The masks can cost between $30 and $60, though it is comfort more than cost that tends to get in the way.
"I don't think it is a bad idea for safety," Pearl River Head Coach Mike Carlacci said. "I think it's a little uncomfortable, so I leave it up to my individual players to decide, but anything that helps with safety I'm for.
"When the facemakss for hitters first came in, our girls weren't happy, but I had seen a player get hit in the face with a pitch and break her nose and I will never forget that sound. Since everyone was having the same disadvantage, I thought it was a great idea."
None of Pearl River's current players wear facemasks in the field, though sophomore pitcher/first baseman Mandy McCarthy used to wear one when she first played travel softball.
"My travel coach pushed it on us for our first year," McCarthy said. "He said you will face some big hitters. Once you face big hitters all the time, yu will kno how to handle it. I was pitching and playing third. I don't know how I'd feel if it was mandatory."
The question is if it is just uncomfortable or does it hamper players in the field.
"You get used to it," McCarthy said. "It's like wearing a pair of glasses."
"We tried facemasks about two years ago," Albertus Magnus Head Coach Carl D'Alba said. "The kids hated it. It cuts down on their quickness, believe it or not. They feel inhibited. They feel less likely to make a play. Maybe it was the type of facemask we had, but what we had did not work at all.
"I absolutely feel it is dangerous if they are inhibited."
D'Alba said he does insist that all of his players wear mouthpieces, which offer protection from concussions as well as for the teeth.
"Mouthpieces keep everything intact," D'Alba said. "You are not getting your teeth knocked out and you are less likely to get knocked out. Some professional hitters wear mouthpieces."
D'Alba said injuries from a batted ball in the field are rare, though corner infielders often play very close to hitters to defend against bunts.
"I'm coaching now for 17 years and I've only seen one girl get smashed in the face and she as a pitcher," D'Alba said. "I've never seen a corner infielder get smashed in the face."
Facemasks in the field are something more often seen among younger players, which may be why both of Nyack's top two pitchers wear them. Michaela Contreras is an 8th grader playing on the varsity and Mackenzie Johnson is in seventh grade.
"The younger ones are teaching the older girls about it," said Nyack Head Coach Stephanie Ryan said. "I played softball and never had a facemask, but I've seen more injuries now with the bats we use. The balls are flying faster off the bats.
"If they have it, the girls should be wearing it."