Masks aren’t just for heroes

Back in the day when adult fast-pitch softball leagues were common, my father used to pitch in one in Tampico.

I was very young – so young that only snapshots of memories come to mind. There were thousands of moths swarming around the lights. I got to have snow cones, and barely remember asking for a squirt of each flavor from the vendor.

There is also the lasting memory of the sound of the ball striking the bat one night. It's always a crack in my mind.

The ball zipped back at my dad and hit him in the arm. Later, we found out that it broke his arm.

On Thursday, I talked with Erie-Prophetstown's Kylie Ackerman after the Panthers beat Newman.

Ackerman is a rising star in the area, a hard-throwing hurler who is equally powerful in the batter's box.

She had her head bandaged, after taking a liner off the bat of Mady Ferris. Ackerman seems as tough as her pitches are fast. She said being struck in the head didn't hurt, and that it was something that she had long expected to happen.

"When you're a pitcher, you know that at some point you're going to have one like that," Ackerman said.

Ackerman is right. If you're a softball pitcher, it's nearly inevitable that the ball is going to be drilled right back at you at some point. When you throw as hard as she does, the force of the ball off the bat is amazing. The distance between the plate and the circle isn't enough to always react in time with the glove.

Ackerman was sort of lucky, because the ball rose enough that it grazed the top of her head.

I talked to a parent behind me that said he saw a pitcher struck in the jaw a few years ago during a summer-league game.

Former Milledgeville star Keali Engelkens came to my mind. She needed a couple surgeries after being hit in the face.

It boggles my mind to see so few pitchers wearing masks. Almost all third basemen in softball have started wearing them. So have many first basemen.

When I covered Little League softball almost 6 years ago, the entire Sterling team that eventually finished third at the World Series was wearing them.

It was a team rule, and Little League was starting to mandate it, as well.

After a while, I figured the IHSA would follow suit.

Even if it didn't, I thought enough young players would get used to wearing them that it would just become as natural as wearing cleats and batting gloves.

Apparently it hasn't.

Ackerman – who doesn't wear a mask – was lucky. She might not be the next time.

Because in softball, lightning can strike twice.