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Masked Defenders

[Editor’s Note: Paul is on his annual August break from site. Deputy editor Phil Hecken is in charge from now through the end of the month, although Paul is still on the clock over at ESPN and may be popping up here occasionally. Today, we have another entry from our own Jamie Rathjen, who’ll take a look at a subject that definitely doesn’t get much uni-coverage on Uni Watch. Enjoy! — PH]

By Jamie Rathjen

The above image is some of the American team, all mask-clad, from this summer’s women’s field hockey World Cup. Players in the sport, except for goalies, aren’t normally often seen wearing masks. Unlike its icebound counterpart, field hockey isn’t really a contact sport.

The Americans are defending a short (or penalty) corner, a situation in which the ball is fed from the end-line to the top of the semicircular scoring area for the attacking team to have a shot at goal. Four or five players from the defending team take up stations inside the goal, ready to charge out at the shot.

The sight of defending players quickly strapping on their masks, then just as quickly throwing them off to nowhere in particular after the corner has passed, is a common one in field hockey.

Part of the concern for safety at short corners is a common technique, the drag flick, used to strike the ball. Instead of simply hitting the ball, players stoop low, step in front of the ball, rest the ball against the head and shaft of the stick, and sweep the stick through the ball until the ball is pushed away into the air.

While hard to describe in text, the drag flick is well documented in YouTube videos. A drag-flicked ball can reach speeds of 75 miles per hour in the 16 yards between the top of the scoring circle and the goal.

Shots at short corners ordinarily may not go above the height of the about 18-inch high backboard around the bottom of the goal (which itself may be a neutral solid color, team colors, or at major tournaments covered in ads), but drag flicks are not considered the same as shots and may legally reach any height.
Additionally, modern field hockey sticks are made of carbon fiber, rather than the traditional wood, and the shaft of the stick is “bowed” (i.e., curved) slightly instead of being completely straight. Both of these developments serve to increase the speed of drag flicks.

Hence, the masks.

As ubiquitous as the masks may seem to observers – they can and should be seen in any league of a decent standard with the use of the drag-flick – they have only been worn for perhaps about 10 years at amateur club level and a bit longer at professional level. As recently as 15 years ago teams could be seen defending short corners entirely maskless.

Much like the adoption of helmets in the NHL of the 1970s, which saw players only required to wear helmets after several years of growing use, field hockey masks are commonplace but aren’t yet mandatory. The sport’s governing body, the FIH, does not require their use, nor does, for example, the NCAA or the English men’s and women’s top tiers.

Even at this year’s Commonwealth Games in Australia, one of the most recent international tournaments, players could be seen without masks.

Embed from Getty Images

Additionally, masks are by no means standardized. The rules are flexible and allow both clear plastic as well as grilled masks – though without the top and back – of the type seen on goalies and in other sports such as ice hockey and lacrosse. Players of the same team can display great variety in their choice of mask. Some of the Australia players’ masks are even labeled with their names in this picture.

Embed from Getty Images

Of course, all the defenders may sport more or less identical looks as well.

As short corners become an ever more potent offensive opportunity in field hockey – by my estimation, they accounted for about one-third of the goals at the recent Women’s World Cup – we can only hope that safety measures keep up.

(My thanks to my good friend Alicia Gibbs, a lifelong field hockey player, for her invaluable assistance with this piece.)

• • •

Thanks, Jamie!

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FUN ONE and (not) Done

Last evening, the Mets and Phillies played in Williamsport, PA, just as had the Pirates and Cardinals last season, to “kick off” the Little League World Series. It’s one of the very few good ideas MLB has done under the tutelage of Rob Manfred, MLB Commissioner.

It’s the second “Little League Classic” — a primetime game hosted in Williamsport, Pennsylvania that coincides with the Little League World Series — as part of a renewed partnership and focus on encouraging youth participation in the sport. Of course, both teams are dressed in special “fun” uniforms (which ALL teams will wear over three games, beginning next Friday, as part of the “Players Weekend.”) IF…they had just had the two teams playing in the LLC wear the uniforms (actually, just jerseys, caps and socks) on this one night, I’d have given the promotion two big thumbs up. But, since they’ve essentially turned it into a league-wide money grab, I can’t get too excited. But for one night it’s fun — and there’s much more to it than just the garish jerseys and caps.

Here’s what the Phils and Mets wore:

Interestingly, the New York Mets OWN social media tweet which led off this section shows a cap the team didn’t even wear. The cap crown was ALL orange, with the brim being royalish blue. Insert hashtag “ThatsSoMets” here.

Like last year, the uniforms were garish and bright and loud — perfect for 11 and 12 year olds, but wholly inappropriate for grownups. But perfect for one game in Williamsport, where all the teams who are playing in the LLWS were — they had prime seats in the stands and they were all honored on the field prior to the game, all dressed in their own designated unis.

The players met, chatted with, signed autographs for, and sat with, players from the participating nations (and sections), which was very cool, I’m sure for both big leaguers and little leaguers.

Of course, this must have all been triple-ly cool for the Mets Todd Frazier, who you may remember WON the LLWS in 1998 with Toms River, New Jersey. He got to throw out the first pitch last night.

But after all the pregame ceremonies and fun were (almost) over, it was time to play ball, and well, the uniforms (which we saw last year on the Mets — same jersey but slightly different cap; the Phillies were one of the teams who got both a new jersey and cap this year — here’s what they wore last year) were as garish as ever:

The Phillies were the designated home team, and as such, wore their white pants, while the Mets — as the road team — wore gray pants:

Of course, players (mostly all) had NickNOBs:

The Mets moved their Rusty Staub patch from the right shoulder to the jersey chest…

… to make room for the “Thank You/I Play For” patch, which was on the right shoulder of both teams (and will be on all teams’ right shoulders beginning next Friday):

It should be noted the teams wore their regular helmets, which in the case of the Mets and Phillies, was fine, since the jersey torso (for both teams) matched.

Of course, it being one of those “special” games, Stance gave the players (many of whom went high cuffed) special socks. The aforementioned Todd Frazier went the extra yard and wore cleats emblazoned with the names of his 1998-LLWS-Winning teammates:

This was very cool — the entire (non-starting) starting staff spent a couple innings in the stands with the LLWSers during the game!

As I said earlier, if this were just a one-game thing, it would be extremely cool. But both the Mets and Phils will do this again, next Friday, against different opponents, for three more days. And all 28 other teams will do so as well, each wearing godawful garish unis.

It was fun once. From here on in, it’s a money grab. I won’t be watching any games beginning Friday and through next Sunday.

If you want to see more photos (including some good shots of all the little leaguers, on and off the field, in the unis they will wear) click here.

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And now a few words from Paul: Less than a week now before my moving date, so Uni Watch HQ is a bit of a shambles (and Uni Watch girl mascot Caitlin is none too happy about it). Looking forward to setting up shop in Uni Watch HQ’s new location!


• My annual college football season preview column, which was originally slated to run this Wednesday, has been pushed back to next Monday, Aug. 27. This means it technically won’t be a “preview,” because there’s a small slate of FBS games this weekend, but the “kickoff” games aren’t until next Thursday, Aug. 30, so my ESPN editors and I (well, mostly the editors) decided on the Aug. 27 pub date.

• While we’re at it: My annual NFL season preview column will run on Sept. 4 — the day after Labor Day.

• I’m very happy to report that our new batch is StripeRite socks is now available for pre-orders, and I don’t mind saying that the three designs look my-t-fine. Dig:

Not bad, right? The product will ship in two weeks, but you can pre-order now. Enjoy!

• In case you’ve somehow missed it up until now, the Uni Watch flex-fit “alternate” cap (shown at right), featuring custom Uni Watch inner seam taping, can be ordered right here.

• If you’re interested in any of the hundreds of LPs and CDs I’m selling and want to come over for a personal shopping session, please get in touch ASAP. After Tuesday or Wednesday, I’ll have to box up whatever hasn’t been sold.

• Similarly, if you’re interested in any of the other stuff I’m selling, please get in touch pronto.

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Griffins Design Contest — ONLY TWO DAYS LEFT…

…To Submit Your Design!

In case you missed it, I’m running the third annual “Grand Rapids Griffins Jersey Design Contest,” in which readers are asked to submit jersey design concepts for a third (or alternate) jersey for the team.

Like past years, the team is asking for a jersey (only) design, but other than that, it’s pretty wide open.

All of the details are here in this post, but the important big detail is the contest submission deadline, which is Tuesday, August 21st, 2018 (by 11:00 pm E.D.T.). Everything else you need to know is in that post. That’s less than two days from now, so be sure to get that design finalized and sent in to me!

Update The jersey of the winning designer will be worn on December 29, 2018 and not February 15, 2019, as previously announced.


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The Ticker
By Jamie Rathjen

Baseball News: Nationals mascot Screech appeared to be wearing a yarmulke for Jewish Community Day yesterday (from Mike Rosenberg). … Not strictly uni-related, but here’s a good article about Japan’s national high school baseball tournament (NYT link), which is both very good looking and a quintessential part of the country’s sports culture (from Ted Arnold). … The single-A Delmarva Shorebirds, an Orioles affiliate, became the Delmarva Scrapple and wore special jerseys, hats, and hosiery, but kept their Orioles-striped pants (from Billy King). … There was a mini Uni Watch meetup in Pittsburgh yesterday. “Keklak, Ullman, RyCo (with his daughter Jordan), Ricko, Hilseberg and yours truly,” says Jason Bernard. … Reader Max Weintraub sent us a picture of the vintage company team of the then-W.H. Nichols Co. of Waltham, Mass.

Football News: In this video, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is wearing a shirt with a (possibly) white-facemasked Vikings helmet. Regardless, the Gridiron Uniform Database tells us the team hasn’t worn light-colored facemasks, except with throwbacks, since 1984 (from Mark Eiken). … New uniforms for the Canadian Junior Football League’s Saskatoon Hilltops (from Wade Heidt). … Also, new jerseys for Division II Northern Michigan (from Jerry Nitzh) and the FCS’s Alabama A&M (thanks, Phil). … Reader Adam Meyer‘s old high school, Western Reserve HS in Mahoning County, Ohio, now has very flag-themed helmets. But that’s not all: the school’s logo poaches both DePaul and the Cardiff Devils of the UK’s Elite Ice Hockey League. Nothing escapes Uni Watch (from, respectively, Griffin Smith and Cal Roberts).

Hockey News: Here’s what each NHL team does with the hats thrown on the ice for hat tricks (from Al Kreit). … Also posted in football: the helmet logo of Western Reserve HS in Mahoning County, Ohio, partially poaches the logo of the Cardiff Devils of the UK’s Elite Ice Hockey League (from Cal Roberts). … Speaking of poaching logos, the Canucks made a youth box lacrosse team give up their jerseys, which feature Johnny Canuck, after a tournament in Langley, B.C. this weekend (from Will Leslie).

Basketball News: Dallas Wings center Liz Cambage, an English-born Australia international who has spent more time playing in China and Australia than the U.S., has many things to say about the state of the WNBA, including the covered-in-ads uniforms. Full article here (from @JayJayDean).

Soccer News: Premier League team Fulham wore their second kit from two seasons ago against Tottenham Hotspur. The original version was red/white/black, but it appeared this weekend as mono-red (also from Josh Hinton). … On the subject, other PL teams that could resurrect last season’s kits as thirds this season include Brighton and Hove Albion (left) and Cardiff City. … Spain’s La Liga now apparently has a sleeve patch commemorating the previous season’s champions, to be first worn by FC Barcelona. Spain joins other major countries in doing so, but Italy has the longest tradition with the scudetto patch (from @TheMomo510). … New Scottish amateur team Isle of Arran AFC played Killie (i.e., Kilmarnock) United, the first-ever game between inhabitants of the island and non-islanders, and it was not full of contrast: red/black vs. maroon/red (from @IV159QZ). … Brazilian Série A teams Botafogo and Atlético Mineiro played each other yesterday. Both have three shirts that are black and white striped, plain black, and plain white, though I will stop short of agreeing with that tweet’s assertion that a matchup between them cannot visually work out (from Andy Beller). … We’ve got a couple of commemorative shirts. First is North Carolina women’s coach Anson Dorrance, who got a shirt for 1000 career wins. That total includes his concurrent time in charge of the school’s men’s team in the 1970s and ’80s (from James Gilbert). … In Scotland, League Two team Peterhead’s striker Rory McAllister got a No. 100 shirt (and the team usually wears NNOB) for being the first to reach 100 goals since the country’s top four tiers became the Scottish Professional Football League in 2013.

Grab Bag: Division I’s Belmont University just switched to Under Armour from Nike and revealed uniforms for all its fall sports at once (from mborgel1). … Also posted in hockey: the Canucks made a youth box lacrosse team give up their jerseys, which feature Johnny Canuck, after a tournament in Langley, B.C. this weekend (from Will Leslie). … Australian rugby league team Canberra Raiders wore a special charity shirt this weekend (from Shane Dobson). … You can now buy glow-in-the-dark belts as worn by the military, something which people in said military compare unfavorably to the prevalance of camouflage in sports (from Greg Franklin). … Not sure who sent this in becuase it was RTed last week, but it’s good stuff that hasn’t made it into the Ticker: Australian Football League team Hawthorn said they are getting rid of their white clash jumpers (a change of jumper is third choice in the AFL, behind a change of shorts), while a Carlton club legend wishes his team would do the same.

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Comments (35)

    That Isle of Arran shot looks like a great day out. Great scenery.

    Still think it’s odd left handed field hockey sticks aren’t allowed.

    “Still think it’s odd left handed field hockey sticks aren’t allowed.”

    This is the reason I detest field hockey and have no interest in it. Some day we will look back on this with shame.

    With shame? That seems a bit much, no?
    Is anyone going to look back on basketball with shame because the rules make it easier for a tall person to succeed than a short person?

    Interestingly, there are also no left-handed polo players. All polo players are required to be right handed, to reduce the risk of head-on collisions.

    That was my point. You should be able to play the sport with either hand. For me, that’s like banning left handed batters or pitchers.

    That being said, I don’t think switching hands is that onerous a task. Of course, I say that being someone who is fairly ambidextrous.

    Left-handed people are bullied, persecuted and downright shamed all the time…that’s why there’s the Lefties Getting Better Treatment Quickly community…there’s nothing wrong with us…we’re born that way!

    I will never use my mouse w/my right hand!!

    Anson Dorrance 1000 career wins is just for college wins.

    “Dorrance coached the Tar Heel men’s team to 172 wins over 12 seasons from 1977 through 1988. Sunday’s win over Ohio State, which fell to 0-2, gives him 828 collegiate women’s wins. Dorrance founded the Tar Heel program in 1979 and is now in his 40th season as its head coach.”

    If I were an NHL player and scored a hat trick, I’d like to set aside the “funkiest” hat to wear when, most likely, I’d be announced as one of the Three Stars of the Game. And if the team allowed it, I’d like to save all the hats for autograph requests. But how incongruous would it be for a hockey player to sign a baseball team hat? Of course I’d put “HT [date of hat trick]”
    as a reminder of the occasion; if it were the only hat trick of my career, the date would be easy to remember.

    If I were an NHL player and scored a hat trick, I’d choose the “funkiest” hat to bring out after most likely being announced as one of the Three Stars of the Game. I’d also like to save all the hats for autograph requests. But how incongruous would it be for a hockey player to sign a baseball team hat? Of course I’d put “HT [date of hat trick]” next to my name. If it were the only hat trick of my career, the date would be easy to remember.

    I was surprised/disturbed to read that only two clubs (Calgary and Chicago) “discard them for sanitary reasons.”

    For the Cousins shirt, that’s deffo just a purple facemask with white edging, and since it’s purple-on-purple the white is just bleeding.

    If you look at the facemask where it’s over the helmet it shows purple-on-purple much clearer.

    I always liked the Vikings white facemask look. The light/dark contrast made them very distinct.

    With next weekend’s uni abominations almost upon us… an observation/question.

    The Yanks and O’s play a double-header Saturday.. will one of the games feature their professional uniforms and the other game the LL costumes?

    Again, speaking in the minority, why not just wear the garish pullovers for BP and then regular unis for the games? Those infatuated with the nicknames would still purchase them.

    Last year, the Mets played a double header on PW Saturday (against the Nats, I believe) and wore the little league tops BOTH games (I believe the Nats did too). So, if history is any guide, then yes, expect the Yanks/O’s to wear the costumes 4 times in 3 days. Of course, this is the Yankees, so they may end up *not* wearing the costumes for one of the DH games.

    Is changing uniforms during double headers common practice?
    I was at the Phils/Mets double header last Thursday. Phils wore their powder blue throwbacks both games but the Mets switched from blue to gray for the second game.

    Here are those new Saskatoon Hilltops uniforms in action on the road in their season opener at Regina Thunder this weekend. Made the switch from Russell Athletic to Nike:


    It was fun once. From here on in, it’s a money grab. I won’t be watching any games beginning Friday and through next Sunday.

    At least these are in team colors, and I can tolerate that a lot more than the other special event uniforms. I still don’t like the money grab aspect of it, but these games are at least watchable. I can’t remember the last time I watch an MLB game on any of the holidays.

    Amen Rich. Admittedly they’re a bit goofy (the Mets wordmark is way too large and should be on a slant) and smack of a merch-stunt, but did the MLB color explosion of the 1970s not teach us one lasting tenet? COLOR. IS. A. GOOD. THING.

    Actually had a chance to catch the Mets in Pittsburgh last year but passed, because they were wearing those olive-and-camo-lettered eyesores on Memorial Day weekend. Kinda kills the rep-your-team-colors on the road vibe, when your team is wearing garbage ….

    Actually, the 1970s showed us that baseball looks a lot better when teams are wearing white and gray, and playing ball on natural grass. Leave the colored tops and the fake turf to that era.

    Philadelphia’s Little League uni from last year wasn’t awful and better than any MLB camo uniform.

    Field hockey question. Why are the sticks so short requiring everyone to bend down at the waist? Why not make them longer?

    Not sure there’s a good answer – they have just always been like that, I’d imagine in order to control the ball effectively. The maximum stick length is 41 inches, but sizes vary depending on how tall one is.


    is it just me or do you find it funny that there are 4 different bulleted sentences with things for sale about 10 inches below this sentence: “It was fun once. From here on in, it’s a money grab”


    Just a thought on the PW garb: if the whole idea is to bring younger viewers/players to baseball, what’s the harm in going goofy for a weekend? Isn’t that what college football and their variety of costumes has been used for? “Oh, look, shiny helmets!”

    I get it overall, gimmie the traditional Chris Taylor of the Dodgers showing everyone how to wear a uniform every day. But I don’t see any harm in letting everyone go crazy for a few games. Them’s my 2 bits.

    Is there any evidence kids want big leaguers to look like them? When I was a kid, I wanted to have a button-down jersey and belted pants, rather than the pullover jersey and elastic waistband pants we were forced to wear in Little League.

    “It was fun once. From here on in, it’s a money grab. I won’t be watching any games beginning Friday and through next Sunday. ”

    Seriously? You’re not going to watch any games because of this? Man, MLB is really going to suffer because of your decision. Meanwhile, some kids will probably watch it because of the uniforms. Crikey.

    I think it’s time to rename this site to “GET OFF MY LAWN!!!”.

    Act III, Scene V. Middle-age man exits stage left while huffing and puffing; “MLB won’t use the uniforms that they are supposed to I’ll never watch again!”

    It’d serve him right if there was a no-hitter, or if someone hit for the cycle, or some other such thing.

    I think this weekend’s uniforms are terrible, but I can endure them for three days.

    From the military glow in the dark belt article:

    “Traditionally used during on-base runs to avoid being hit by cars before or after dark, the trendy new PT belt from Urban Outfitters will make sure you also avoid being hit by compliments.”

    Comment of the week candidate!

Comments are closed.