- Associated Press - Friday, June 15, 2012

CINCINNATI (AP) - Those summer scorchers don’t make umpires melt down anymore.

Cooling technology that’s been used by the military for years has started helping umps get through those days when the temperatures flirt with triple-digits and the humidity makes handling home plate duties a sweaty job. They can wear a vest with cooling packs on the front and back, or slip a pack into a special pocket in their shirt when they’re behind the plate.

They’re a lot cooler these summer days, which is no small thing. Unlike players, who can escape the sun and duck into the air conditioned clubhouse between innings, the men in black don’t get a break.

“It can really be the difference-maker in finishing the game when the conditions are that difficult,” 13-year veteran umpire Bill Welke said.

It’s a vast improvement over the days when umpires got so dehydrated on broiling afternoons that their fingers would wrinkle. All they had back then to fight off the oppressive heat was sips of water between innings, a soaked cabbage leaf under their hat and quick dousing with ammonia water between innings.

It’s especially tough for plate umpires, who have to wear that protective equipment and do more than 300 knee bends per game, making a fraction-of-an-inch decision on each pitch. A clear head is needed. And there’s no time to duck into air conditioning and cool down.

All major league umpires have access this summer to technology that was developed for the military during the first Gulf war. It has spread into industries that involve heat, and filtered down to law enforcement and firefighters who need to stay cool to do their jobs.

“This technology is not new,” said Kate Doherty, spokeswoman for HTFx, Inc., which developed the equipment. “It’s only new to sports.”

The umpires were skeptical at first.

There have been other attempts to adapt cooling equipment to umpires. About 20 years ago, they experimented with a liquid-filled vest that was bulky and didn’t stay cool long enough. Cooling packs would get wet and heavy as they thawed.

Didn’t work.

When much of the country sizzled last summer, umpires started trying the HTFx equipment _ marketed under RiteTemp Athletics _ and loved it.

“This stuff really works,” said Tim Tschida, a 26-year veteran and crew chief. “When I first saw it, I was like, `I don’t know, that sounds like a gimmick.’ The first two or three guys on the staff that used it, they couldn’t stop raving about it. They said it’s like dropping the temperature outside by 20 degrees.”

Now, every umpire room in the majors has the cooling equipment, stored in a freezer for ready use. There’s a vest with pads front and back that can be worn on the bases. Umpires’ shirts now have inside pockets for a pad with a home-plate insignia, providing a layer of cool under the chest protector. The pads can be quickly swapped for colder ones out of the freezer every few innings.

There’s a cooling cap and another that an umpire can sit on after the game to quickly lower their core temperature.

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