The first rule in umpire protective gear is safety. Foul balls and wild pitches are a regular part of baseball and softball. Trust me, umpires get hit on a regular basis. Most veteran umpires will happily tell their stories about broken bones and trips to the ER. As every umpire knows, even with the best umpire gear, the ball will find an unprotected spot and it will hurt you. Fortunately there is a fantastic assortment of quality protective gear on the market that will protect the amateur umpire.
The second rule is light weight. A home plate umpire will spend an entire game standing on the field. For many youth league umpires, especially in tournament play, the home plate umpire will take two games in a row behind home plate. The reason for this is obvious: once the umpire is “geared up” it is inconvenient to “gear down” and change to work the field. Spending hours, on your feet, in the sun is tough enough. Every ounce you save in weight off your gear will help you hustle a little bit more and perform during the game.
Rule number three: breathability. Baseball and softball are warm-weather sports. As a result protective gear often causes the umpire to become warm. . . or hot. . . or ready to pass out! Consequently the umpire will perspire – a lot! The more air circulation you have, the cooler you will be.
So now, what is the best umpire gear? Usually you must make concessions in finding the best gear. Personally, I believe in whatever gear offers the best protection. Weight and then breathability are equally important.
Diamond DFM-UMP. $70.00. My choice in mask is a traditional mask rather than a hockey-style mask. I like the look and I’m used to this style. Diamond’s Feather Weight Umpire Mask is my choice in mask. It weighs only 1 pound, so it is extremely light weight. It also offers good visibility.
Recently my DFM-UMP mask was hit by a foul baseball during a college game. A weld on the mask broke and separated a little bit. The mask was about 8 months old and had seen about 300 baseball and softball games. I emailed Diamond and the customer service rep gave me instructions on how to return the mask. Two weeks later I had a new DFM-UMP mask. I highly recommend this company.
Lately I have been considering the hockey style mask. The first reason for this consideration is the hit Kerwin Danley took under his traditional mask (a Wilson 10″ Dyna Lite Inner Deerskin Padding Umpire Mask (#A3009X)). I noticed he switched to the hockey mask after his injury. Although there has been some discussion about whether Kerwin Danley’s injury could have been avoided, common sense tells me that the hockey mask offers more protection. A hockey mask will weigh a little over two pounds up to just under three pounds.
The other reason for considering the hockey style mask is cost. Hockey masks are typically a little more expensive than traditional masks, however most “working” umpires will sweat through several plate caps each season. I sweat a lot, so I go through 3 or four plate caps during the year. I use a different hat in the field and typically can get through a whole season with one field hat. At $15 a pop, the cost for using and replacing plate hats adds up over time.
Oh, and remember to use a throat guard.
Wilson West Vest Platinum. $150. While many of my colleagues prefer breathability, I advocate protection. In baseball you can’t beat the hard shell vests. I own and recommend the Wilson West Vest Platinum. It is comfortable, surprisingly breathable, and tough as nails. Foul balls bounce off me like bullets off Superman. As often as that happens, I will not use anything else.
Anything. Seriously. I have worn full triple-knee-protection guards and I have worn soccer shin guards. All catcher-style baseball shin guards are hard plastic and will protect just fine.
[Editor’s note: This article is a highly opinionated piece, written to assist the beginner to intermediate umpire in choosing proper gear]