What is the most important piece of equipment on the baseball field? Bats? Balls? Gloves? Helmets? Batting gloves? Sunglasses? Catcher’s mask? Chest protector? Shin guards? Actually, none of the above. Everything listed is necessary, but the most important piece of equipment on the baseball field can only be: the cup. We’re not talking about the cups that we drink water or Gatorade with; we’re talking about the cups that protect our manhood.
Most men can remember a time in their childhood when a “cup check” was standard–and only acceptable on a sports field. In little league, as improbable as it sounds today, your coach might have tapped your junk with the end of a baseball bat, listening for that distinct object-hits-cup sound. After realizing that you were properly protected, he would check the next player. If anyone forgot their cup, they were treated to an uncomfortable reminder about why wearing a cup is important.
As the baseball world painfully witnessed, there was a traumatic incident during the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs game on Saturday, May 5th. A single foul tip encouraged an important conversation. The players involved: Cardinals pitcher Jordan Hicks, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, and Cubs hitter Kris Bryant. While it took three players to create this situation, the only person we really need to focus on is Yadi.
First, some background on Yadi, one of the best catchers to play the game: major league catcher since ’04; future Hall of Famer; two World Series rings; four National League pennants; two World Baseball Classic silver medals (Puerto Rico); eight All-Star selections; eight Gold Gloves; four Platinum Gloves; one Silver Slugger award; two All-WBC Tournament team selections. Yadi might have the top resume in the history of baseball, and he’s been one of my favorites for years. So, yeah, he knows what he’s doing.
Now, back to the action. In the 8th inning, Hicks hurled a 102-mph fastball–one of the fastest recorded pitches in baseball history–into the strike zone. A right-handed Bryant swung over the top of it, and barely knicked it. But his bat altered the ball’s trajectory just enough to avoid Yadi’s outstretched glove. The ball continued on its downward plane and nailed Yadi right in the crotch. I mean, it hit him square in the penis. Like a bullseye. Understandably, Yadi tumbled straight to the ground with what can only be described as indescribable pain. After a few minutes, he picked himself up and walked off the field under his own power. Kudos to ABC Channel 7 for being classy enough not to show the replay, but the internet is famous for following a different set of rules. Memes of slow motion nut-shots run rampant, and I’ve seen most of them. This, however, was something totally different.
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I spent the entirety of my baseball career as a catcher. From the age of 9 until being released from my last professional contract at (almost) 28, I have worn the “tools of ignorance.” I have always worn a cup. Fortunately, cups come in different sizes, so the cup I wore when I was 9 is not the same cup I wore at 28. For a time, I inherited my dad’s metal cup, which let out a nice “PING” sound every time it made contact with a baseball. But, it protected my junk, so it did it’s job. In high school, I was once at a catching camp and we were dressed in full gear, preparing for blocking drills. The guy in line behind me did not have a cup, and asked me if he could borrow my mask to stick in his pants and act as a cup. Uh, no way bro.
Cups and catchers are like peanut butter and jelly–they just go together. The reasoning is, the closer you are to the ball, the more likely your testicles need protection. For example, outfielders, stationed some 300 feet away from home plate, probably will not wear a cup. Middle infielders, about 120 feet from home plate, usually do not wear a cup. As we get closer, corner infielders, standing about 90 feet from contact, might wear a cup. Pitchers are 60 feet 6 inches away, should wear a cup, but do not. Catchers, in the middle of the contact zone, always wear a cup.
Catchers are smart, and we know how to protect ourselves. The nature of the position is hazardous to our health. We can have balls in the dirt bounce up and hit us in the crotch; we can have foul tips hit us in the crotch; we can have a play at the plate hit us in the crotch; and we can have a thrown bat hit us in the crotch. We know the importance of self-protection and preservation more than any player on the field.
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Now, back to Yadi. When I first saw the foul tip hit Yadi in the nuts, his reaction made me grateful that cups exist in the first place. Cups were created to deal with this exact type of situation. Surely, the cup took the brunt of the impact, and his balls just got rattled a bit. Of course that hurts, and Yadi is a tough mofo. But as he laid there, withering in pain, this did not look like an ordinary nut shot. Normally, there is a doubled-over upper body and severe facial wincing, followed by an attempt to “walk it off,” all the while mumbling expletives under your breath.
But, Yadi stayed down on the ground, gyrating in obvious pain. Something was clearly wrong. Upon exiting the game under his own power, I thought Yadi was the recipient of some bad baseball luck. Catch that many games at the major league level, and sooner or later a 102-mph foul tip finds its way to your nuts. It could happen to anyone. Later, the Cardinals released a statement that Yadi underwent emergency surgery for a “pelvic injury with traumatic hematoma.” According to ESPN.com, doctors saved both of his testicles.
Wait, Yadi’s testicles needed saving? Didn’t the cup protect him? After talking it over with many colleagues, a few offered a sobering thought: maybe Yadi wasn’t wearing a cup. I had not even entertained the possibility that Yadi was cup-less. The thought of it made me sick to my stomach. Why would a big league catcher not wear a cup? The media reports talked about his testicles, but not his cup.
Upon watching the replay in super-slow motion, after the foul tip makes contact with Yadi’s groin, it looks like Yadi’s balls shake in the way that balls shake when not wearing a cup. They kind of bounce like a speed bag bounces when being beaten by a professional boxer. It looks like it’s the worst pain a man could feel. Of course, wearing a cup is extremely uncomfortable. No one loves the way it feels, and it moves around all the time. (Why else are baseball players always adjusting their crotches?) But, even more uncomfortable than wearing a cup, is taking a fastball to the groin. I hope Yadi was wearing his best cup when he was hit by Hicks’ heater.
As of this writing, no one has mentioned the whereabouts of Yadi’s cup. We don’t know if his cup cracked, or if one of his balls was hanging outside the cup when it took the foul tip, or if he wasn’t wearing a cup at all. What we do know, is that right after Yadi took one in the junk, the St. Louis Cardinals bought bulletproof cups for every catcher in their organization. Bulletproof cups—cups that can stop a damn bullet! If I was still catching, I would have extreme piece of mind knowing that my cup was bulletproof.