“I think right now we’re at a place of personal preference,” Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson said. “I would be not surprised if more and more kids starting to come through that have had it their whole life continue.”
Nunley has worn her mask since she started pitching at age 9. She broke her nose playing shortstop the year before, and her father bought her a mask when the decision was made to move to the circle.
She had already been wearing a protective mask during gym class in school, so adjusting to it was relatively easy. Now, she hardly notices the mask while playing, which is one of the chief concerns among coaches and players.
“I think with my windup, if I wear a visor I’d hit it, so I’m sure I’d hit a mask,” Baylor pitcher Whitney Canion said.
But comfort or not, there are fewer options to protect a player.
“If you’re safer, you can keep playing,” said John Aragon, coach of a 14-under team from Carlsbad, N.M. “You get hurt one time, and you’re probably going to shy away from it.”
There’s also a simpler solution for pitchers: Throw it where a batter can’t hit it back.
“My first thing as a pitcher was throw it where they can’t hit it,” Oregon coach Mike White said.
Of course, that might not always go as planned. When that happens, a mask could be the best solution, and Nunley is quite aware of that.
“You hope to throw it at the plate where they won’t hit it back at you, but sometimes it just happens,” she said. “Luckily, I wear the mask and it protects me.”