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This past year, Wilson ended production of the Shock FX line of Hockey Style masks. While technically progressive, the unit represented a customer service headache for Wilson and a marketing dud when put up against the more sculpted, more rugged, and yet less expensive All-Star System7 series and Easton M series. With cages being bent by impacts, or the shocks becoming fouled up by constant frequent tossings or hurlings to the ground by catchers, more than a few were being sent back to be replaced by all-new units. At one time, Wilson did offer a replacement cage alone, but that option was quickly exhausted. Then, with a substantial portion of their production run going to replace returned units, the Shock FX wasn't generating a sufficient profit margin. Thus, last year, Wilson debuted the Pro Stock HSM, which is a great catchers HSM, as it is very sleek and looks like an even more sculpted and tapered All-Star System7. But where does that leave Shock FX users? As far as umpires were concerned, the Shock FX was a rather well-designed and accommodating HSM, offering very good viewing space and the critical stand-off distance – supplemented by the shock suspension – necessary for good forward protection. It wasn't too heavy of a unit either, all things considered, but did have some shortcomings that could have been addressed and remedied in subsequent versions. The leather pads would unfortunately retain oils and grime, and made laundering and cleaning a challenge; to their credit, Wilson did offer a replacement pad set (still may, but supplies are likely limited). Then, of course, no cage is impervious to the tremendous energy that a ball potentially carries, and the cages would get bent. Compounding this was Wilson's dalliance into titanium which, while lighter and thinner than steel, cost a substantial amount more and were "impossible" for Wilson and the average user to repair. So while Wilson was closing the line down, and supplies of replacement parts dwindled, the response back to users became, "Sorry, you'll have to purchase another one". Frustrating, to say the least. Especially when a retail Shock FX was $150 - $200 and a retail All-Star System7 was $115 - $150. Well good folks, that bent-up Shock FX can get a new lease on life. Mask-It can make repairs on the cages of the Shock FX, as the cage does remove rather easily. Two screws – one at the forehead, one at the chin – hold the cage in place, then the cage merely slides forward and free of its shock-&-spring suspension. Take note of how the parts are arranged, put them in a zip-lock bag or a jar, and then send the cage alone to Tony and his crew at Mask-It. The one they just did for @KenBAZ had a fairly large dent in the eyebrow region, and the paint was long gone to corrosion. Mask-It not only trued the mask back up, but filed the bar ends smooth (before, they were blunt and sharp) and gave it a powdercoat job in Liquid Gunmetal – one of the sexiest colors in their palette. Looks good as new, doesn't it? It came to $40, but it sure does beat trying to find and purchase a new one! Oh, I do recommend wrapping the four mounting posts in masking tape. I forgot to, and suddenly remembered an episode of American Chopper wherein powdercoat was applied to the sleeve mountings of the front fork, and they had to file and grind it off to get the fork struts in. Same thing here, I had to file the powdercoat off the four mounting posts so the springs and bushings would fit.
The Wilson Shock FX may be entering its waning days. With the market success by the All-Star System 7 hockey style mask, and the follow-on effort of Easton to produce the Mako and M-line of shaped masks, Rawlings and Wilson are now forced to reformulate their own lineup. Rawlings significantly (and finally) updated their HSMs, starting with the Pro Preferred. Wilson continued on with their Shock FX, but its clunky shape, relatively complex spring-suspension, and Wilson's unsympathetic customer service, it saw only limited use in the High School and College ranks in comparison to the All-Stars and Eastons. No Major League catchers used it, and only a handful of Major League Umpires ever did (Gary Cederstrom, famously). Instead of trying to improve it, Wilson has instead developed an all-new, shaped WTA5700 Pro Stock hockey style mask in the hopes its looks and price point will gain the attention of high school and college programs. That's not to say that the Shock FX is, or ever was, an inferior model; it is more to say that Wilson abandoned it and chose not to further develop or improve it, or even to support existing models. It is this last point that's got my attention. I recently received a Shock FX in decent, but used, shape. The primary pads (forehead and chin) were completely worn out, every vent hole was dirty with the dust of hundreds of games in the desert heat, and the cage had a pair of pretty significant dents to it. Besides this, the cage's paint job (when will companies learn that paint doesn't "stick" to steel??) has flaked off, and the beginnings of rust are taking hold. So, I stripped all the parts off it, cleaned everything, sanitized the inner pads of the shell, changed out the primary pads for a brand new kit, and soaked all hardware in mineral oil to recondition them (they will be thoroughly dried before I put them back). Of major note, though, is I will be sending the cage off to Tony at Mask-It to have the dents knocked back out, the cage re-trued, and then powder coated a spiffy new color. When the cage returns, remount it with the reconditioned hardware and voilá, we'll have a Shock FX, back to good-as-new. So... why can't Wilson take care of their gear like this, or, in lieu of that, allow us to buy parts (replacement cages) so as to do it ourselves??