Cleveland based research company Team Wendy has recently introduced replacement pads for traditional umpire masks. Called "Team Wendy Umps," these pads use Zorbium, a foam designed by Team Wendy and used in U.S. military helmets.
Team Wendy was founded by Dan Moore as a memorial to his daughter Wendy, who died from a traumatic brain injury while skiing. The company's sole mission is to provide protective head gear products. Team Wendy’s Zorbium helmet liner is the only system authorized for use by the U.S. Army, Marine Corps and National Guard. According to Don Tecco, National Director of Sales and Branding for Team Wendy, "Team Wendy was started as an R & D center to focus on mitigation of TBI and a huge part of what we still do is ongoing research and development not only for improved battlefield safety, but now safety in the sports and recreational (expanding into cycling and skiing) arenas."
Zorbium is a open-cell, viscoelastic polyurethane foam that Tecco says is highly tunable for different applications. Testing data from Team Wendy shows that Umps padding lowers peak acceleration forces by an average of 30 percent and lowers the severity index by an average of 40 percent. The testing involved firing a baseball from an air cannon at 100 mph. The masks with standard pad configuration used in the test were:
D - Davis Diamond mask
H1 - Honig's black frame mask
H2 - Honig's navy frame mask
R - Rawlings LWMX mask
Umps are made with an antimicrobial, moisture wicking fabric to promote comfort and hygiene. They are naturally resistant to mold. Tecco says that while Team Wendy encourages umpires to change out the mask pads at the start of the season for hygiene reasons, "Zorbium will not lose its protective properties" over time like other mask pads.
The first thing you notice is that the Team Wendy Umps are stiffer than other mask pads on the market. However, the Umps are covered with a soft porous cloth material that feels like cotton to the touch. The pads feel rigid against your face, but are not uncomfortable. The covering grabs face stubble less than most cloth coverings. Unlike many other mask pads, the Team Wendy Umps do not use vinyl or PE leather on the outer part of the pads. That raises some concerns that the pad's cover may show dirt over time.
I put the Team Wendy Umpys into a Diamond iX3 DFM-UMP. The total weight for frame, pads, and harness was 18.5 ounces. The indestructible frame meets the most protective pads! This mask rig could outlast my umpire career.
The construction of the Team Wendy Umps is sub-par. The pads I inspected had extra material around the seams and some of the stitching was unraveling. It is not a clean finish that other mask pads possess. Tecco tells me that there is no reason that the Team Wendy Umps could not be covered in leather. Personally I would like to see the Zorbium foam covered with leather, or a PE leather outer / doe skin interior covering.
The Team Wendy Umps are sold exclusively through Honig's for $39.95 and are available in black or tan cloth.
Fair or Foul?
My initial reaction to the Team Wendy Umps is favorable. The first and foremost attribute of a mask pad is its protective quality, and Team Wendy makes claims that the Umps will attenuate ball impacts greater than other padding systems. While ball impacts to the chest, shins and even groin are not a significant concern to umpires because of the use of advanced protective gear, head impacts routinely cause concussions and other serious injury to amateur and professional umpires alike. It is refreshing to see an R&D company like Team Wendy bring its advanced technology to the umpire community. I have nothing but high praise for such a company and its products. And kudos to Honig's for working with Team Wendy to provide this product. My call is FAIR!