Like most fastballs sailing high and tight, this particular one in Visalia bore inside on Modesto Nuts outfielder Scott Robinson so quickly he barely had time to flinch.
It made direct contact with Robinson's temple; the ball caroming wildly into foul territory as the fans at Recreation Park let loose a collective terrified gasp.
Robinson instinctively dropped to his knees in the batters box, waiting for his ears to ring and the onset of the throbbing concussion headache.
"When it hit me, I hesitated for a second because I didn't know whether I was hurt," Robinson said.
And then, Robinson blinked, shook his head, popped up to his feet and ran to first base.
"It hit me and I felt it a little bit but not much, so I just popped up and headed to first," Robinson said. "I didn't feel dizzy or anything like that."
Just a year ago, batters getting beaned in the temple by a fastball nearly automatically were removed from the game, if only as a precaution in these concussion-aware times. But a new batting helmet that Major League Baseball has mandated to be worn during all minor league games this season has changed all that.
In just its second month of use, the Rawlings S100 helmet is winning over believers in baseball for its ability to protect heads.
It will not, however, win anybody over for its fashion sense.
The new Rawlings helmet is noticeably bigger than what the major leaguers wear, and also larger and slightly heavier. It includes an expanded liner made of polypropylene, a foam-like material used in some bicycle helmets.
Rawlings sent six helmets to every major league club, but New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli is the only big leaguer wearing one on a regular basis. He'd already sustained a couple of concussions when manager Joe Girardi persuaded Cervelli to pick safety over style.
"It's ugly," Cervelli said in spring training, adding, "It's not about how it looks, I've got to take care of myself."
Cervelli's choice also brought him a new nickname: "Gazoo," from the oversized space helmet sported by the tiny green alien introduced in latter seasons of "The Flintstones."
The reality is that the new helmet includes just about a half-inch of extra padding all the way around. But to many players, that makes the new headwear hugely unpopular.
"I don't even look in the mirror," said Justin Turner, an infielder for the Norfolk Tides, the Triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. "I think they're ridiculous. There's got to be a way to put more protection in the helmet and not have them look that atrocious," he said.
There might be. Rawlings is working on a new model of the helmet that will be smaller but will offer the same level of protection, and hopes to have it ready within a year or two for major league use.
Until then, minor leaguers will be the only players forced to wear the new gear.
"You know how long it takes to get used to the new helmets? The next day," said Jim "J.J." Johnson, the roving hitting coordinator for the Colorado Rockies. "No one says anything about the helmet now. Especially if they've been hit in the head.
"All I know is that the new helmets are great. I've seen two kids in extended spring training get beaned, I mean really nailed, with like a 90-plus fastball. The trainers ran out and the kids just stood up. They were fine."
In spring training, San Francisco infield prospect Ryan Caven was beaned while wearing one of the new helmets.
"It hit him square in the temple," said San Jose hitting coach Gary Davenport. "He still was out for a week with headaches, a concussion, but if it were one of the thinner helmets who knows what might have happened?"
With the helmets optional in the majors, the new shell is a tough sell in a sport where players strive to look good.
Cincinnati third baseman Scott Rolen suffered a concussion when he was beaned last season. The Reds gave him one of the concussion-resistant helmets to try when he came back, but he found it too uncomfortable.
Kansas City catcher Jason Kendall has been hit by pitches 251 times, among the most in major league history. Still, he's not switching.
"When you've got somebody throwing 95 mph and hits you in the helmet, it's going to ring your bell," Kendall said. "But you've got to be comfortable. You don't want a 10-pound helmet on your head."
Outfielder Justin Maxwell, who's been back and forth this year between Washington and Triple-A Syracuse, was hit in the helmet by a 95 mph fastball in the second game of the International League season.
"I didn't feel anything," Maxwell said. "I've been hit in the head before with the old helmets. I remember I got hit in 2007 in spring training. I was kind of dazed for a couple of days and had to sit out. This year when I got hit, I just ran to first base, no problem. It actually broke the helmet. I had to get another one, but I didn't feel anything."
Maxwell said adapting to the S100 hasn't been a problem.
"You get used to it. You really don't notice it. I was little skeptical of it at first, but after getting domed I know it's pretty safe," he said. "It's not a bad thing, but I can understand the allure of it not looking good."
Modesto's Robinson also said the helmet looked and felt strange at first. But since, unlike in the majors, everyone in the California League has to wear them, most players have found their own comfort level with the new gear.
"Nobody likes the look of it," Robinson said. "But since we see them all the time now it looks like the normal helmet. It's not that bad.
"But the first time I put it on it felt and looked huge. It was like someone put a doggone bowling ball on my head. But it's fine now."
And, perhaps in the best possible tribute to the new helmet, so is Robinson's head.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at 578-2300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.