By Cliff Corcoran
Jordany Valdespin has often been described as cocky, but he took that to a new extreme on Monday when he started at second base for the Mets but opted not to wear his protective cup. It wasn't in the field that Valdespin paid for his hubris, however, but at the plate, a frightening proposition given that the opposing starter was the Tigers' Justin Verlander. Valdespin squared around to bunt in the fifth inning only to take a 94-mile-per-hour fastball to his unprotected region. Valdespin immediately hit the dirt, but was not injured. Still, he earned the ire of his manager, Terry Collins, who addressed Valdespin's attitude after the game. Here's Collins via the New York Post:
We’re going to settle some of that stuff down. He has been told a lot in the last couple of years about how to handle himself on the major league field, especially when you are a young player. He understands it, he’s adjusting to it and once in a while you always get caught up in the moment. When you’ve been doing some things your whole life sometimes you have a little difficulty making some adjustments, but he will make them. We’ve got some good veterans on this team. They will make him.
Fortunately, one of those veterans is not Adrian Beltre. It was Beltre who most famously went unprotected in a game in August 2009, suffering a ruptured testicle from a bad hop at third base that, per Beltre, caused the injured gonad to swell to the size of a grapefruit. Amazingly, after Beltre returned to action later that season, he only wore a cup long enough to get his coaching staff off his back, then once again left it in his locker. As Beltre told the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessey the following March after signing with the Red Sox:
When I came through the Dodger camp [as a teenager], they forced me to use it, but I told them I can’t play like that. I feel like I can’t move, so I never wore one again until last year after I got hit. It was the first time I was hit. They say I’m crazy not to wear the cup. But I say, if the ball’s going to hit me there every 11 1/2 years, I’ll take my chances.
It's worth noting that cups have been outré in the NFL for more than a decade. An ESPN.com Page 2 story from November 2006 revealed that, per the team's equipment manager, no member of the Philadelphia Eagles had worn a cup since 1999, while a New York Times piece from this past December revealed none of the New York Giants do either, in part because the players believe that cups are as likely to cause an injury as prevent one.
They're not totally off base. Prior to Beltre's 2009 injury, the most famous ruptured testicle in baseball history belonged to Carlton Fisk, who suffered his injury when a foul-tip cracked his cup in half, and it was the broken cup, not the ball, that caused Fisk's injury. Still, we still remember Fisks injury, which happened on St. Patrick's Day 1974, because it was so unusual. In the intervening 39 years, cups have protected players from pitches, foul tips, bad hops and charging baserunners countless times without another Fisk-level incident.
As for Valdespin, he and the Mets are lucky he avoided a serious injury. The 25-year-old played five positions for the Mets last year (both middle infield and all three in the outfield), delivered five pinch-hit home runs and is one of their hottest hitter in camp, a performance which could earn him a starting nod in their empty outfield. Indeed, the hit-by-pitch overshadowed Valdespin's home run off Verlander in his first at-bat on Monday, his third of the spring, which pushed his spring line, compiled largely against major league competition per the new "Opponent Quality" rating on Baseball-Reference, to .370/.414/.704. Clearly Valdespin is a believer in the old Yogi Berra saying, which is that you can't think and hit at the same time.