All major league umpires have access this summer to technology that was developed for the military during the first Gulf war. It has spread into industries that involve heat, and filtered down to law enforcement and firefighters who need to stay cool to do their jobs.
“This technology is not new,” said Kate Doherty, spokeswoman for HTFx, Inc., which developed the equipment. “It’s only new to sports.”
The umpires were skeptical at first.
There have been other attempts to adapt cooling equipment to umpires. About 20 years ago, they experimented with a liquid-filled vest that was bulky and didn’t stay cool long enough. Cooling packs would get wet and heavy as they thawed.
They didn’t work.
When much of the country sizzled last summer, umpires started trying the HTFx equipment – marketed under RiteTemp Athletics – and loved it.
“This stuff really works,” said Tim Tschida, a 26-year veteran and crew chief. “When I first saw it, I was like, `I don’t know, that sounds like a gimmick.’ The first two or three guys on the staff that used it, they couldn’t stop raving about it. They said it’s like dropping the temperature outside by 20 degrees.”
Now, every umpire room in the majors has the cooling equipment, stored in a freezer for ready use. There’s a vest with pads front and back that can be worn on the bases. Umpires’ shirts now have inside pockets for a pad with a home-plate insignia, providing a layer of cool under the chest protector. The pads can be quickly swapped for colder ones out of the freezer every few innings.
There’s a cooling cap and another that an umpire can sit on after the game to quickly lower their core temperature.
To a fan or player, it may not seem like much. To umpires, it’s a godsend. Veteran umpires have stories about getting lightheaded in the heat and so sweaty that even the bag of baseballs attached to their waists got soaked.
“You get some scorcher days out there, I’ll tell you,” said MLB Director of Umpiring Randy Marsh, who worked major league games for 27 years. “I’ve got some old pictures of when I worked. When you walked off the field, your uniform was completely soaked.”
When Marsh started working in the majors, there wasn’t much help with the heat. Teams would soak towels in cold ammonia water that umpires wrapped around their necks between innings. Cabbage leaves soaked in the water could be tucked under caps.<< previous 1 2 3 next >>