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In the effort to minimize the risks of concussions and head impacts, Major League Baseball Umpires advises changing out mask pads every year.
Now, keep in mind, this is for near-constant use in "high-impact" environments (the speeds of Minor and Major -league baseballs). Also, this does not include the advanced, spring-suspension mask from Force3, the Defender, since the pads are specially designed for the mask, and the mask's springs and struts are taking a significant share of the impacting force.
Mask pads themselves vary greatly, and it is equal parts construction, performance and feel (against your face). The two that are the most noteworthy are the Zorbium© pads from Team Wendy and the MemoryFoam pads from Wilson. Other pad sets that work very well are the All-Star LUC pads, Wilson doeskins, Wilson wrap-a-rounds (which are being phased out, IIRC), or any of the "boutique outfitter shops" (such as +POS or Honig's).
In fact, the lighter the mask – by using materials such as Magnesium, Aluminum, and Titanium – the more supple and energy absorbent the pads have to be. The "show ponies" from Nike, Wilson, and Rawlings1 (the Titaniums) and the "experimentals" from +POS, Champro and Diamond (two Magnesiums and an Aluminum) are heavily reliant on more-than-adequate pad sets. Diamond skimped by with woeful, paltry pads for 2-3 years, until finally forced encouraged to dramatically improve their stock pads on their aluminum mask, even though one should strongly consider using one of the premier pad sets if using a mask like that frequently.
Does that mean get a whole new mask? Not exactly! Most of these pads are available individually. Since the pads are sold separate from the mask, then... well... naturally there are mask frames that are sold bereft of any pathetic sub-optimum pads. Three great outfitters offering bare mask frames, ready to take pads and harness of your choosing are:
+POS – Offering its light-as-a-feather-strong-as-an-ox hollow steel ZRO-G mask frame, in silver. Lightweight, great sight lines , rounded chin guard, classic look evocative of the Nike and older Wilson frames (perhaps there's substance to the myth that Nike used the ZRO-G planform when designing their Titanium & Steel iconic masks). Ump-Attire – The Emporium Co-Op of All Things Umpire offers Diamond's DFM-UMP-iX3 mask frame, in black. Aluminum, light but unyielding, with great sight lines, squared chin guard and extended crown guard. And with it sold through Ump-Attire, it has nearly the entire array of pads and harnesses to outfit it, as well as U-A's outstanding customer support. Honig's – The Outfitter keeps their trademark K4 mask frame out there, in black. Hollow plugged-end steel affording excellent, resilient protection, with a brief chin guard (ideally suited for any of a number of dangling throat protectors), "blowback" ear guards and an extended crown guard contributing to a sophisticated look. Nice feature of Honig's site, the frame can be ordered bare, or outfitted with any of the pads Honig's has in stock directly on the online page. 1- All-Star is, unfortunately, not listed as their titanium show pony, the FM25Ti with its dual-wire eye slot and huge, radar-tower-like ear guards, is intended for catchers.
+POS Umpire Equipment
You guys remember +POS, right? No? Ah, new to umpiring? +POS has been around for at least a few decades as a "boutique" umpire (and other sports official) gear producer. In no way can it rival the mass produced quantities of a Wilson or an All-Star, but its real strength resides in innovation. Dan (founder) is a true gear engineer, and several of his designs have found their way into the production pieces for several of the "big guys".
Recently, +POS rolled out a new website, and most of their catalog is currently on sale! That's significant discounts on the Mag-T magnesium alloy, 14oz mask, the iconic Zero-G mask, the Zero-G Chest Protector (doesn't a Douglas look alot like it? Hmmm), and select jackets.
Oh, and while not on sale per se, the Zero-G mask makes an appearance as a naked frame! Get an iconic mask, throw a harness on it (they've got harnesses there for $3, seriously) and put your own pads – TWs, Wilson MFs, just about anything other than the Diamond stock pads – on it, and you've got a top-notch mask!
Keep things POSitive!