Plastics play a key but often-forgotten role in keeping children safe. A recent example from the news: protective face masks and safer baseballs used in many youth leagues.
A study released Feb. 4 by University of North Carolina researchers found that clear plastic visors on batting helmets reduce the rate of facial injuries by 35 percent, and softer, polyurethane-core baseballs (instead of traditional rubber and cork wrapped with yarn) reduce ball-related injuries by 29 percent.
The research, commissioned by USA Baseball, the sport's governing body, was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The UNC researchers noted that the use of safety balls and facemasks is common among 6- and 7-year-olds, but use drops off rapidly among players 10 and older. Stephen W. Marshall, a UNC professor and principal author of the report, recommends that leagues adopt the safer products for players up to age 18.
Now baseball is home to lots of purist fans who are skeptical of any sort of change. After all, this is the sport that continues to use expensive, fragile wooden bats, at least at the professional level, and one league still refuses to use the designated hitter.
Still, it's a sure bet that baseball eventually will adopt these safety measures. Today's young players naturally will feel comfortable using visors, just as players of yesteryear eventually adopted plastic batting helmets.
Oldtimers can guffaw all they want about the improvements. Any critics can feel free to stand in the batter's box, 60 feet 6 inches away from the pitcher, and face a few high-and-inside fastballs.
North American processors, on the other hand, might want to consider ways they can capitalize on the sporting goods safety trend.