Just about anyone who has played baseball, especially in cold weather, has experienced the painful, stinging sensation that follows hitting an inside pitch off the handle of the bat. Your hands become numb, and it feels as though you are holding a fistful of bees. It is similar to having your foot fall asleep. The appendage becomes useless for a few minutes. When you reach a certain level in baseball—say, when the pitches are in the 80-to-90-mph range—hitting one off the fists can open new insights into pain. Major leaguers have been sidelined by the bone bruise it can cause.
But relief has arrived. A new product called Direct Protect is making its way around the majors, and it is the answer to a lot of players' prayers.
Direct Protect is a soft, durable rubber doughnut that fits over the thumb and cushions the area between the thumb and index finger of a batter's top hand. Besides adding protection, it forces a batter to hold the bat properly: across the fingers, not the palm of the hand. Direct Protect is the invention of former University of Miami designated hitter Phil LoMedico, who has suffered his share of bone bruises.
In 1974, as a junior, LoMedico hit .354 and helped lead the Hurricanes to the finals of the College World Series, which they eventually lost to USC. Before that season LoMedico had taken so much batting practice that he aggravated a bad bruise on his hand. He refused to sit on the bench and rummaged through the football trainer's room at Miami looking for something to act as cushioning. He came up with some rubber sheeting, molded it into a flat pad, taped it to a ring of adhesive tape and slipped it between his thumb and index finger. The device worked, and the impromptu thumb guard became the prototype for Direct Protect.
Following his senior year, much to his disappointment, LoMedico was not drafted by any major league team, so he went into the music business, his second love. He auditioned for Beatlemania and won the role of Ringo. "Over 10,000 people tried out for the show," he says. "I had a facial resemblance to Ringo and could sing the songs." He played on Broadway for six months and toured the U.S. and Canada for another 18 with the show. He says, "The highlight of that period was after the show closed, when we were invited to sing the National Anthem in Wrigley Field before a Cubs game." When LoMedico retired from the fake four, he concentrated on turning Direct Protect into a highly successful batting device.
Today it is hard to find a single major league game in which someone is not using Direct Protect. Some of the first players to use—and eventually endorse—the product were St. Louis second baseman Tommy Herr, Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia and Yankee third baseman Mike Pagliarulo. Says Herr, "I've been using it since it came out. My left hand has a tendency to be tender ever since I broke the thumb during the '80 season. It really helps."
Two of the major leagues' best young hitters, Don Mattingly of the Yankees and Darryl Strawberry of the Mets, use the device to protect injured thumbs. Yankee trainer Gene Monahan says that Direct Protect is an improvement over the less refined models that a trainer might be able to produce. "Everything else that could be done to lessen the pressure on that part of the hand would have to be attached to either the hand or the bat. That would make them really part of the bat and wouldn't supply any protection. The nice thing about Direct Protect is that it floats between your hand and the bat and allows air to become an added source of protection for your hand."
Direct Protect sells for about $4 and comes in three sizes to fit the hands of most players, from Little Leaguers on up to the pros. The small size is sold at Toys "R" Us; all sizes are available at sporting goods stores around the country or can be ordered by writing to The Pro Hitter Corp., 170 S. Main Street, New City, N.Y. 10956.