Enhanced Sports Solutions Tech Sits Under Baseball Caps, Helmets and Masks
Every time you see a baseball player diving away from the trajectory of a wayward fastball or lunging for a stolen base and their helmet flies off, it illustrates the point of Rich Fontana, owner of Enhanced Sports Solutions: Those helmets aren’t snug enough to make as much of a difference in protection as they should.
Fontana, 77, who has played baseball his entire life—and still does—wanted to help solve the head-protection problem in baseball. His answer comes in the form of Enhanced Sports Solutions and head-protection gear he said reduces head-injury criterion over 70 percent versus not having protection.
The Enhancer, created through a patented process using differing types of elastomers, synthetic rubbers or synthetic silicones creates a grid of air cells. The device fits snug onto the head, sitting under a hat or helmet.
“The design dissipates the energy,” Fontana said. “When you get hit by a baseball or something, instead of energy going right to the spot, it goes through those squares and dissipates, like a bullet through a bucket of water.”
The patented, lightweight material—the 360-degrees of ventilated design weighs between four and six ounces, depending on the size and style—reconstitutes immediately, allowing the Enhancer to dissipate the force to a lower peak for a longer period of time.
Using the concept that the brain floats in fluid, the Enhanced Sports Solutions product uses air instead of fluid to provide that extra layer of protection on the outside of the head.
“It is a series of air around the outer circumference of the head working like that gel,” Fontana said.
Fontana has worked to protect athletes from injuries for decades. In the 1970s, he developed a safety rail for horse racing to protect jockeys from getting throw into the rail. It was then he started researching differing concepts relating to head protection.
While the solutions weren’t a fit for jockeys, he has now revived the ideas and spent time testing the baseball-specific designs at the University of Southern California to prove that the patented process and air cells could help a head handle the impact of a 90 mph fastball.
All testing was performed using the Cadex Linear Impact Testing Machine. With linear acceleration and head-injury criterion, the metrics used to compare the force of a baseball traveling between 85 and 90 mph, results showed that the Enhancer provided a 71 percent reduction in head-risk criteria. With an approved helmet worn over top of the Enhancer, a 76 percent reduction in head-risk criteria was achieved.
“We put our Enhancer on the head and threw the ball again, and the impact was 76 percent less,” he said. “It evolved from there.”
The product launched as a way to protect pitchers, with the Enhancer fitting under a cap. With fit such a critical component of the protection, Fontana said it comes in a variety of sizes.
Each mold can cost up to $80,000, not a simple process, but one highly technical and aimed at protection performance. Players must size up their cap one size to handle the additional bulk of the Enhancer. The Enhancer also works under a batting helmet, with the same need to push the helmet one size larger.
That latest use, though, comes from a slightly tweaked version with a different diameter to fit in both catcher’s masks and umpire’s masks. Enhanced Sports Solutions has caught on in Major League Baseball with umpires, with the likes of Gerry Davis wearing the protection during MLB games.
The next step for Enhanced Sports Solutions comes in getting adoption at a younger age.
“Little League is where it all starts,” he said. “It is like when Wayne Gretzky was a youth, he wore a helmet even though nobody was wearing helmets. When he got to the NHL, he couldn’t imagine not playing in a helmet.”
Fontana wants the Enhancer to become synonymous with head protection in baseball, from youth baseball all the way to professional leagues.
Moving forward, as Fontana works to raise awareness about the product across multiple levels of baseball and softball, Enhanced Sports Solutions has also prepped the launch of a hand guard, designed to protect batters from a pitch.
The Enhancer, which sells for just under $40 to under $50, depending on the size and style, lasts for a year, Fontana said. Just like with a helmet, the air, sweat and salt can eventually wear down the materials, requiring a new one each year for peak performance.
“It works,” Fontana said. “We have tested it against everything on the market. It reduces the impact dramatically.”
Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.