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Safety Baseballs, Masks Cut Kid Injuries

Protection Not Certain, but Safety Gear Advised
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Feb. 4, 2003 -- Get your glove up, baseball coaches advise -- and don't flinch when the ball's headed for your face. Now the consequences of not heeding the coach may be less severe, thanks to new safety equipment.

RIF balls -- the acronym stands for reduced impact factor -- are softer than regular Little League baseballs. There are three main types, one softer than the next. They look like regular balls but flatten more on impact. They are supposed to cause fewer injuries. And for more protection, many young would-be Barry Bondses sport protective facemasks.

Do these things really work? Yes, says a study in the Feb. 5 issue of TheJournal of the American Medical Association. Stephen W. Marshall, PhD, and colleagues at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill looked at insurance claims filed by wounded mini Mickey Mantles.

Overall, there were 28 insurance claims filed for every 100,000 kids per season. Using RIF balls reduced ball-related injuries by 28%. Using facemasks reduced facial injuries by 35%.

The authors note that RIF balls and facemasks don't offer 100% protection against injury. Still, they advise their use.

"We suggest that leagues with limited resources consider pursuing the implementation of safety balls initially, followed by implementation of faceguards," they write.

Most baseball purists say the RIF balls don't bounce the same as regular balls. But in blinded studies -- where they aren't told which is which -- most adults can't tell the difference between safety balls and normal balls.

Major League Baseball funded this study.

SOURCE: The Journal of the American Medical Association, Feb. 5, 2003.

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