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Three Diamondbacks among players turning to C-flap for injury prevention

Arizona Diamondbacks Nick Ahmed celebrates with Chris Owings (16) after hitting a three-run home run against the Cincinnati Reds in the second inning during a baseball game, Monday, May 28, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

PHOENIX, AZ – Imagine being in the ring with a professional boxer, wearing no protective headwear and unable defend a punch square to the jaw.

Now take that and multiply the force of the punch by more than four times. That is roughly what Giancarlo Stanton experienced in 2014 when he was struck in the face by a Mike Fiers fastball.

According to “back of the envelope” estimates by Alan M. Nathan, a physics professor at the University of Illinois and baseball physics researcher, a hit to the jaw by an average major league fastball will have an impact of around 3,700 pounds of force. A Duke University study of 70 “elite-level” boxers found they punch with an average of 776 pounds of force.

For Stanton, the impact resulted in multiple facial fractures, a large laceration requiring 20 stitches, and serious dental damage. He was quoted saying there were “chunks of teeth” floating in blood in his mouth.

When he returned to play the next season, Stanton wore a faceguard that resembled a partial football helmet. Within a few months, the faceguard was ditched for the C-flap protective guard he still wears to this day.

“I think I saw Giancarlo Stanton use it (first) when he got hit in the face,” said David Peralta, the Diamondbacks right fielder, when recalling the first players to use the C-flap. “I remember when Dansby Swanson got drafted, he got hit by a pitch in the face and he started using it in the minor leagues.”

The C-flap itself isn’t a separate, new style of batting helmet. It’s simply an addition of hard plastic extending from the ear down to the chin, bolted onto the earpiece of a standard batting helmet.

Today, only three Arizona Diamondbacks use the C-flap: Peralta, Nick Ahmed and Ketel Marte. Although Ahmed has been hit in the face, during a 2016 game in Pittsburgh, Peralta and Marte have never been hit.

“Thankfully it didn’t do any damage as bad as (Stanton),” Ahmed said. “But I was just thinking the next time it happens, I probably won’t be so lucky.”

This is where the conversation around the C-flap has changed. In the past, it was reserved for players coming back from an injury. However, in 2018, many players are beginning to use it as a preventative measure.

In addition to Peralta and Marte, superstars from around the league, such as Washington’s Bryce Harper and Houston’s Carlos Correa, are using the C-flap solely to prevent injury. Like Peralta and Marte, neither have been hit in the face.

“A lot of guys get hit in the face and in the head now,” Marte said. “I saw a couple guys using it, and I said, ‘Man I got to use this because I love my life and I don’t want to get hit in the face.’ ”

While the facemask may look awkward and uncomfortable, the players seem to adjust to it quickly.

“It’s weird but at the same time it’s good. You feel more safe,” Peralta said.

Ahmed and Marte both agreed that if feels no different than a standard helmet, once you’re adjusted to it. For the three Diamondbacks, they all began wearing the C-flap for the first time this offseason.

“We had a conversation in spring training about it,” Ahmed said. “My take and some of the other guys’ take was that if you have the opportunity to protect yourself and keep yourself off the DL, and from being injured or having your jaw wired shut or losing an eye or a nose, you might as well do it.”

How long it’ll take the C-flap to percolate throughout the league is yet to be seen, but even this season it is becoming a much more noticable addition to player accessories.

“I think a lot of people are going to start using it,” Peralta said. “You don’t need to get hit in the face, and it’s really dangerous.”

The NFL didn’t make helmets mandatory until 1943 and batting helmets in baseball were not mandatory until 1958. While it doesn’t seem to be on the horizon, C-flaps could be a mandatory part of the next generation of baseball equipment.

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