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BETWEEN THE LINES

New Catcher's Helmet Causing Quite a Buzz

April 15, 1998|TRIS WYKES

It's not hard to spot Royal High catcher Buzz Byer on the field: he's the one with the flames on his head.

Actually they're on his helmet, one of a new style used first by professional hockey goaltenders and increasingly, major league baseball catchers. Byer began using his this season.

The two-piece protective device consists of a molded front portion that fits snugly over the face and the front of the skull. A concave rear shield is attached to the back of the head with heavy elastic straps.

Byer's helmet cost more than $300 and was his birthday present in November. But the junior got the equivalent of a $200 paint job for the cost of materials from Highlander Coach Dan Maye, an art teacher at the school.

Maye, a former catcher at Culver City High and Cal State Dominguez Hills, took five hours to paint the letter R in English script on the back plate, a baseball on the forehead and Byer's uniform number and first name on opposite sides. He also added flames in different locations.

"If it had been my helmet it would have been easy to know what to put on it, but Buzz doesn't talk much so getting ideas out of him was hard," said Maye, who used gold, green and white paint on the black helmet. "Each day I added a little bit and asked him if it was all right."

Byer's headgear is an attention getter. Umpires ask if it conforms to National High School Federation rules, which it does. Young fans want to touch it. And opposing catchers pepper Byer with questions about the helmet's cost and availability as they dig into the batter's box.

Byer doesn't mind the attention and can't imagine returning to the traditional batting-helmet-and-mask combination.

"The padding's real soft so it's more comfortable, and I feel more secure because it protects my entire head," he said. "Your side-to-side vision is about 10 times better than in the old masks and you don't even notice the bars. There's no downside to it."

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