Group of MLB pitchers using ballcaps with Kevlar inserts, manufacturer says

ByWilliam Weinbaum ESPN logo
Monday, April 13, 2015

A group of six pitchers that includes Chicago White Sox right-hander Hector Noesi has used a Kevlar padding insert in caps this season or in spring training that Major League Baseball has not approved, the manufacturer told ESPN's "Outside the Lines" on Sunday.

Rob Vito, CEO of Unequal Technologies, said Noesi and New York Yankees reliever Esmil Rogers have worn the company's "Dome" insert under official New Era caps in games this season. Four other pitchers he declined to name have also worn them in the last six weeks.

Vito said the padding is a 5-ounce military-grade composite, with one layer of coated Kevlar and another of a soft proprietary material called airilon.

Noesi started the White Sox's home opener Friday; the team's Comcast Sports Net telecast first reported he was wearing the Kevlar padding in his cap.

An MLB executive told "Outside the Lines" on Sunday that it was looking into the use of the Dome inserts and was reserving comment. Pitchers are free to wear protective headgear of their choice, as long as it doesn't interfere with competition or with MLB licensing agreements.

As "Outside the Lines" reportedlast yearand last month, MLB and the players association approved two versions of isoBLOX padding for pitchers' caps made by 4Licensing subsidiary Pinwrest. But only one pitcher wore last year's product and none has worn the new iteration in a game this season.

That padding weighs about 7 ounces and noticeably increases a cap's size and bulk. Approval came after independent laboratory testing at 83 mph, which an MLB-commissioned study determined to be the average speed of line drives reaching the mound area.

Vito said his Pennsylvania-based company's padding will "keep pitchers safe from line drives, but I'm not making any claims about speeds." Unequal did its own testing, had independent testing done and plans to seek MLB approval, Vito said.

"But I wanted to keep quiet about it until seeing whether players like it," Vito said.

Two years ago, Unequal failed to gain acceptance when it offered padding weighing 9 ounces, Vito said. He added that a change to airilon from another material, an "elastomer" called accelleron, has reduced the weight and increased the capacity to absorb energy.

About 20 MLB catchers, including the Kansas City Royals' Salvador Perez and David Ross of the Chicago Cubs, an endorser for Unequal, wear either the Dome or the company's "Uncap" padded insert that has a hard plastic layer, Vito said. The Uncap has not been tested or approved by MLB either.

But Vito said he believes his products deserve a favorable response from baseball.

"I think MLB will welcome the fact that players have armored up their protection," Vito said.