By Charlie Warner
Argus News Editor
While much has been written about the increased number of head injuries resulting in concussions to pro athletes, Miken Sports, Inc. of Caledonia might be having the biggest impact (no pun intended) in helping to alleviate this serious sports issue on the baseball diamond.
Beginning next season all 30 Major League Baseball teams will be exclusively using a batting helmet that is being produced right here in Caledonia.
Miken Sports produces a number of products for Rawlings Sports. According to Mike Thompson, senior vice president of marketing for Rawlings, all of the helmets worn by both major and minor league players are Rawlings helmets.
“For a number of years, as more high-profile athletes have been experiencing concussions, the various sports have been looking at ways to reduce this type of injury,” Thompson said. “Major League Baseball came to us and asked us to produce a helmet designed to withstand the impact of a 100 mph fastball.
“Athletes have gotten stronger and faster,” Thompson continued. “And MLB wanted a stronger helmet.”
Thompson explained that the first helmets developed to withstand a 100 mph fastball were “higher profile” than what the big leaguers were used to.
“The minor league players accepted the new helmets and began using them right away,” Thompson said. “But because the new helmet had a little larger profile, MLB players were reluctant to make the switch.”
So Thompson asked Jim Hoscheit at Miken Sports to come up with a helmet that was strong enough to handle a 100 mph fastball, but with a lower profile. They did just that and a number of big league players are currently sporting the new, safer helmets.
“It was much easier to make a stronger helmet with the higher profile,” Thompson said. “The real challenge, which the engineers at Miken were able to meet, was to come up with a lower profile helmet that met the MLB requirements.
Thompson noted that Minnesota Twins All-Star slugger Justin Morneau was fitted for the new Rawlings helmet during spring training. Morneau was sidelined for more than a year with issues resulting from a number of concussions sustained while playing professional baseball and apparently when playing high school hockey while growing up in Canada.
“We are thrilled to have someone like Justin wearing one of our new helmets,” Thompson said.
“Every MLB team will have the option of using our new helmets this year,” Thompson said. “But their use won’t be mandatory until next year. Players will have the choice of using our larger profile helmets, our new S-100 Pro Comp helmets, the cool-flow vented helmets or the traditional ones.
“We’ve sent out about 300 of the S-100 Pro Comp helmets to all 30 MLB teams this year. Next year it will be more like 3,000, as all 750 MLB players will be wearing the new helmets, and they are all being made in Caledonia.”
“This is a tremendous boost for our company,” Miken Sports CEO Jim Hoscheit said. “Coming up with what Rawlings needed is a true testament to our engineers and our company here in Caledonia.”
When asked if the production of the new Rawlings helmets will mean an increase in employment at the local manufacturing facility, Hoscheit said, “most definitely.”
With the new helmets, Miken is now producing products used by athletes in Major League Baseball, hockey sticks used in the National Hockey League and composite baseball and softball bats used all over the world, including in the Olympics.