I've been getting a lesson this spring in just how much youth sports have changed. Both of my girls are in youth softball this spring. Both of these leagues are among the many across the country that either request or require the girls to wear a new piece of equipment that I was not familiar with. The fielder's safety mask.

Yes, not a batting helmet with a mask, but a mask that you wear while you play the field on defense. I was taken aback by this. I'm all for player safety and I'm the last parent who wants to see their little girl take a line drive to the nose. But hasn't that always just been part of the game? You learned to get your glove up and protect yourself. Baseball players aren't afforded the same luxury of facial protection. Are our girls really that much more fragile and in need of protection?

But in doing some research, there are some crucial differences between the two games that make these masks a necessary evil. First of all, a baseball pitcher's mound in high school is 60 feet from home plate. In softball, the mound is much closer, at 43 feet away. The dimensions of a softball field are also smaller, and the ball itself is bigger. And then there are those bats. They get more technologically advanced all the time and that means faster swings and faster line drives. Factor in that, plus the fact kids today are just faster and stronger and you've got a potentially dangerous situation.

So are fielder's masks another example of the softening of our world? Perhaps. But if spending $30 makes my daughter feel safer and more confident playing the game, then it's money well spent.

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