Force3’s Defender Mask the Top Choice for MLB Catchers
Force3 Pro Gear’s Defender Mask first appeared in Major League Baseball on Atlanta Braves catcher Tyler Flowers in 2016. Now the Defender Mask is worn by more than 20 MLB starting catchers, making it the most popular mask at the highest level.
“Having it worn at the highest level is what counts,” said Force3 founder and former professional umpire Jason Klein. “It has got to be the best and it speaks volumes to the fact that we have two players under contract and over 20 players wearing it. The team, the agent or the players are buying it, it is not something we supply.”
Along with Flowers, Yasmani Grandal, now with the Milwaukee Brewers, serves as one of the two leading athletes for Force3, which offers both a hockey-style — high school ages on down require the wearing of a hockey-style mask — and a traditional two-piece design in the Defender Mask technology. That patented spring technology is what makes it is popular, Klein said, with the springs absorbing frontal impacts and Kevlar on the outside providing additional protection.
The first version of the Defender Mask was originally intended to debut in 2015, but after Red Sox catcher David Ross gave suggestions from a catcher’s point of view — and not just that of what was then an umpire-only brand — Force3 decided to make alterations and it “changed our world.”
“It improved our design and function,” Klein said. The new approach moved two of the three springs higher into the mask and created a clearer vision path for catchers to see first and third base. It also lightened the mask. The changes took a year to perfect, but once it was ready to go, Flowers was signed a deal with the company that included ownership stake, just like Grandal.
In 2018, Grandal signed onto the company saying that “over the last two seasons I’ve seen the great results other players have had after being hit by a ball while wearing the mask and that made me want to wear it even more.”
With the mask perfected in form and now with a traditional mask footprint for no learning curve in wearing the mask and the Shock Suspension System reducing the “severity index” of impact up to 50 percent in most cases, Klein says, any changes to the design comes small. But aesthetics always provides an opportunity to create fresh perspectives.
“I think the majority pick us for the safety part of it, but it also has to look good,” Klein says. “Our mask has the safety, function and the looks.”
The 10-year umpire veteran started Force3 as an umpire brand. The entire company shifted trajectory when it moved into the player world with its Defender Mask. “This is going into our fourth year and we are exploding with growth,” Klein said. “The player side is overtaking our umpire side right now. That is the exciting part.”
With the success of the Defender Mask, Force3 has also introduced other player-focused components, such as gloves and mitts for varying positions, additional catcher’s protective equipment, batting gloves and apparel. Force3 expects to move into softball soon and potentially use its technology to expand beyond baseball and softball.
Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.