This past weekend I took a trip out to Easly, SC; Cherryville, NC & Charlotte, NC part of my trip was to visit my family in the area, but I was also going out there to meet with Jim Kirk who was in the area visiting one of his suppliers.
Meeting with Jim Kirk of Ump-Attire.com
We were able to speak for a few hours about a number of things, but we spoke mainly about equipment.
Jim brought a couple of masks for me to check out. The Diamond Feather Weight Umpire Mask - Silver Frame (#DFM-UMP-SV) mask was one of them. I'd heard a lot about this mask and was eager to check it out first hand. The first thing I noticed before even touching it was one good looking mask. Then Jim handed it to me and I was really amazed at how light it was. But for being so light it was also ironically substantial. By this I mean it didn't give me the impression of being flimsy. This was partly due to the thickness of the bars. The width of the bar as you're looking out are no thicker and are probably thinner than most other single bar masks. But they're pretty deep. I told Jim while this mask is light I psychologically feel comfortable with it because it looks like it is still very sturdy. Also it looked like the throat extension of the mask was slightly longer than many others and I liked that too. Looking at the things I didn't like about it, and they were minor, were the padding. Now I did like the Ump-Attire.com logo on the pad, but the padding felt flimsy. I would definitely change the padding if this were my mask. The next thing I didn't care for, and once again it was really minor, was the texture of the aluminum frame it wasn't smooth like I am use to. Just texturally different.
Jim also showed me was the PRO-PLUS Gold Super-Xtreme Lightweight Face Mask. This is the mask made of magnesium and another mask I was eager to get my hands on, and when I did get my hands on it I was absolutely amazed at how light it was. It was even lighter than the Aluminum Featherweight Mask. I held one in each hand and this mask was at least an ounce lighter. I wanted to see just how strong it was I grabbed it firmly and twisted it and tried to get a feel for its strength. It did not flex a bit. I was amazed at how strong it was and yet so light. I told Jim I thought this would be a popular mask because there are a good deal of guys who will buy strictly due to weight. While I have little doubt about the masks strength and ability to protect, it lacked the psychological effect of providing protection. Meaning while I was not able to bend the mask when twisting and flexing it, I just wasn't able to get my mind around it being sturdy. This masks pads were also lacking. I mentioned that umpires are not going to like these pads.
Jim also showed me pictures of next years Reebok Shoes. The good news is the logo is less pronounced than the current model, but it still will not satisfy those who want to keep the shoe as black as possible. Now the good news is, and Jim correct me if I'm wrong please, but Reebok is also coming out with an all black low-cut version of their shoe for 2010. I believe this will be a huge hit, but I also believe a mid-cut version will be a bigger hit when and if that is made. In my opinion if Reebok made the plate shoe in an all black, mid-cut model they would instantly dominate the market.
The Wilson Shock Fx HSM has also gone through a bit of a make over. The titanium cage has been restyle to give what I feel is a more aggressive look and the top of the cage has been made sleeker where before at the top of the cage it just protruded out from somewhat awkwardly. I think this modification will be a popular one for this already popular mask.
Jim and I also spent a fair amount of time discussing the future of umpire protection. As you know Jim has been on the forefront of the mouth guards for umpires issue. I mentioned in another post I had considered it a while back. I was in a sporting goods store and saw this mouth guard, which I thought I would feel comfortable wearing it as an umpire and was intrigued by the thought. But I didn't buy it and honestly didn't give it another thought until brought up by Jim in a post here asking if we would wear one. I read Jim's interview with Andy Fletcher and his experience wearing a mouth guard and it got me thinking. Then after speaking to Jim further about mouth guards and their potential for umpires I gave it a lot of thought. I've decided I will wear a mouth guard for the 2010 season. I have done a little research on my own and am now convinced that a mouth guard should be part of every umpire's equipment cache. Among my many points of reasoning is that in my time umpiring I've spent about $200 on plate shoes, but I don't think I've ever taken a shot to my foot that has really required anything more than what your normal street sneakers could protect me against. But I wear plate shoes not only because they're professional, but I know that one day I'm going to take that shot to my foot that I'm going to be thankful to be wearing real plate shoes. Same thing goes for the mouth guard. I've taken a number of shots to the mask, one even slightly denting my old +POS double bar mask and several completely knocking my mask from my face. Fortunately, I've yet to take one that places pressure on my jaw. But it's a reality that I'm going to take that hit at some point, and I'm going to want to be protected. I've selected two mouth guards one available readily online at a reasonable price and one a custom mouth guard which can be obtained through the dentist. I'm not going to go into much detail at this time on either mouth guard. But this is something I am going to discuss with my dentist at my next appointment in November. After getting a professional opinion from my dentist I will share my selection with Umpire-Empire.
Another safety topic we discussed was flapless style batting helmets for base umpires. We both seem to agree that this is a direction that the NFHS will eventually head the question mark is on when. I personally do not feel batting style helmets are necessary for umpires. While every year many umpires are injured by batted and even thrown balls and we do not have any means to protect ourselves like the fielders, our paramount duty is to know where the ball is. This is our defense. We are paying the most attention to the ball of anybody on the field. Base runners and even coaches are not watching the ball intently and from a coaching standpoint base runners should not be watching the ball while running the bases. So the base runners should indeed wear a helmet. For the coaches I personally feel they should and this year have seen a Legion coach take one to the helmet who loudly joked, "Oh, that's why I have to wear this thing."
I even say that umpires shouldn't be mandated to wear a helmet after seeing a dear friend and great umpire go down with a cracked skull after being hit by a thrown ball. He has made a full recovery and now wears a hockey helmet (not an HSM - he also is a hockey ref) on the bases. He will be the first to admit that this was a result of him turning before the fielder released the ball. His injury was preventable, but there are going to be injuries which are just unavoidable and that's a risk everybody involved in the game is at from the players, to the coaches, to the umpires. But there needs to be a balance of protection and practical.
Now even though I am against wearing helmets as an umpire when the rule ultimately comes down I will wear a helmet. Begrudgingly, but I will wear it. Apparently, there are some umpires out there who are already wearing them
Jim also showed me the collection of Oakley sunglasses he now carries for umpires. I know wearing sunglasses behind the plate is a topic of discussion on its own, but sunglasses are another area of protection umpires need to consider. Jim shared with me how not only are Oakleys among the most protective in terms of impact protection, and naturally UV protection, but the Oakley lenses are the highest quality in terms of distortion.
I once had some nice Bolle' sunglasses that my brother gave me which I thought they were awesome. Unfortunately, after a game a few years ago I opened up my old truck to let the heat out I threw them on the seat while I got out of my gear and had a post game with my partner. I had forgot all about them and wasn't even looking when I hopped back in the truck and snap I broke the frame and lens and bent the hinge on one of the arms. They were trashed. I've since always swore I was going to get another pair of nice sunglasses but just quickly went got a pair of inexpensive glasses at Target. In that time I've probably lost or broken half a dozen other pairs of glasses. But after trying on the Oakleys, I'm reminded of the difference the clarity and uniformity of the vision that come with the nicer glasses.
These are but a few of the topics we covered, but it was really nice to finally meet Jim face to face. Three things stood out to me from meeting with Jim. First, he truly is a nice person and the type of person you want to do business with. Second, he is passionate about his work, the quality of products he offers, and service. Finally, he really wants to make a difference. Whether it is proactively finding quality value priced products or whether it is raising awareness about concussions.