Calling balls and strikes requires an umpire to not flinch as a baseball is coming at you at 80+ mph. Stay in your stance, knowing your equipment will protect you from the five ounce baseball. No umpire enjoys taking hits, but when your equipment does its job the fear of taking a blow begins to subside. Each piece of equipment is important, however the mask is unquestionably the most important.
Personally, I wear a hockey style mask. It gives me the protection of a normal mask, plus it protects the side, top, and back of my head. Baseballs have hit me on the side, top, and back of my head, usually from ricochets off tight backstops. Always keep your head on a swivel. Your equipment will protect you when you cannot protect yourself.
The hockey style mask protects me from every direction and allows me to hide when things get serious or not so serious. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Beyond the physical protection of the mask, it also allows me to maintain a serious demeanor while laughing when something funny happens. Work enough baseball games and you will see funny things happen. A runner wiping out for no reason, a coach telling a player to quit playing in the grass, a parent’s voice cracking while yelling at their kid. I can smile and laugh a little without anyone knowing. While the mask shields you when something funny happens, it also hides you during serious moments. You can let someone vent about a perceived bad call, while also keeping an eye on them. Inside the mask you see the game, and until you make a call no one knows what you are thinking. This gives you valuable time to make decisions.
It is your own little world inside the mask. The ear protection dampens some noise. The cage protects your face and brain. The mask keeps you a little warmer in the cold and a little cooler in the summer heat. The helmet can get hot, but I will gladly take the heat over the blunt force trauma it guards against. The additional weight of the hockey style mask puts more strain on your neck, back, and shoulders. However it is a small price to pay to mitigate long term injuries like concussions.
You see the game differently as an umpire. You are the ultimate judge. Working behind the plate and inside the mask, you focus on every pitch and ball in play. The mask protects you from the game, without it your mind and body would pay a terrible price. Every piece of equipment is important, but only the mask allows you to see the game up close and then walk off the field with a smile on your face and all your teeth.