- Tim Kurkjian, MLB reporter
- 0 Shares
A baseball is a wondrous little thing. It weighs 6 ounces -- the same as an apple -- and is the perfect size and shape for the hand. It is the ideal home for the proudest autographs, so white and pristine, resting on the mantel or in the trophy case. A shiny new baseball is known as a "pearl"; pearls are so elegant and romantic. It is what brings fathers and sons together in the backyard for a joyful, peaceful game of catch. It appears in springtime, like flowers and warm sunshine.
And yet, when that baseball is flying directly at a hitter at 95 mph, and that batter can hear the ball spinning, like the sound of a giant bee attacking, and then it hits that batter and those red seams bore into the skin like the teeth of a buzz saw, well, the elegance and romance of that pearl is replaced by piercing, pulsating, primal pain. It is pain that can last for weeks, it can leave a hideous mark that can last for months and it can instill a fear that can last forever. It is pain and accompanying fear that the average fan would experience once, then never go near home plate again. Yet it is pain and fear that major league players experience monthly, weekly, even daily, but they keep getting back in the batter's box, a courage that deserves our total admiration. It is what separates them from the rest of us.
"To me, the hit-by-pitch epitomizes the game of baseball," Padres catcher John Baker said. "The hit batsman, and the game, is all about, How much can you handle? How much pain can you handle? How much failure can you handle? How much embarrassment and fear can you handle? Those that handle it best are the ones that play the game for a long time."
And yet, the hit-by-pitch numbers are confusing. Former Braves infielder Mark Lemke holds the major league record for most plate appearances -- 3,664 -- without getting hit by a pitch. The Mariners' Michael Saunders is the active player with the most plate appearances without a hit batsman; he's just over 1,000. Yet Lemke and Saunders were hit plenty of times in the minor leagues. Former major league outfielder Herm Winningham had 2,069 plate appearances without getting hit and says he never got hit by a pitch in the minor leagues, either. "The last time I got hit," he once said, "was diving back into first base on a pickoff throw." ESPN analyst John Kruk got hit by a pitch twice in 4,603 plate appearances. How can that be? Mickey Mantle was hit 13 times in his career. Tony Gwynn was hit 24 times.
The all-time leader is Hughie Jennings, whose career began in the 1800s. He was hit 287 times, once every 19.3 plate appearances. Craig Biggio was hit 285 times, followed by Tommy Tucker (272), Don Baylor (267), Jason Kendall (254) and Ron Hunt (243). Baylor, big and burly and tough, once was asked which one of the 267 hurt the most, and he grunted and said, "None of them." Kendall, who isn't as big or burly but is as tough as they come and got hit by pitches on purpose all the time, said of his 254, "They all hurt."
F.P. Santangelo, who played for four teams during his seven-year career, laughed and said, "I'm in the hit-by-pitch hall of fame -- most hit-by-pitches in a season by a switch-hitter: 25. I was a .245 hitter. I hit leadoff. I had to get on base any way I could. On-base percentage was my only good statistic. I learned how to lean in and get hit by strikes. Kendall and I had a side bet one year on who could get hit most; we bet a case of beer. I'd see him on the field before a game and I'd say, 'I'm at 17,' and he'd say, 'I'm at 18.' I think I still owe him a case of beer."
"When that ball is coming at your head at 95 mph, that is the fear of God. That sound you hear is the thumping of your heart."
-- Mike Macfarlane, former major league catcher.
It is not an exaggeration: the fear of God, the thumping of your heart. At that moment, when the ball is traveling at an incomprehensible rate of speed, the hitter has to make a decision. "And you have .28 seconds to figure it out," Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher said. Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, whose cheekbone was shoved dangerously close to his brain when he was hit by a pitch in the face more than 40 years ago, said, "For all humanoids, those who breathe, when someone throws a baseball from 60 feet and throws it really hard, the FIRST thought is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, 'Do I duck or swing?' The difference is the time that people take to decide whether to duck or to swing."
The average person ducks when the ball is coming near him; the big leaguer stays in and swings.
"The fans have no idea," Rays infielder Will Rhymes said. "They don't realize that they wouldn't even stand in there and track a pitch against a major league pitcher. And they are smart not to stand in there. At least we know how you're supposed to get out of the way."
It's a helpless feeling up there when you know you can't get out of the way. At that point, you just pray it doesn't hit you in the face.
”-- Tigers outfielder Brennan Boesch
And yet sometimes, there is no chance of escaping a pitch that is headed right at you.
"You can tell, on some pitches, right out of the hand, that it's going to hit you, no matter what you do," Angels right fielder Torii Hunter said. "You can tell when it slips off the inside of his hand, and you're thinking, 'Oh, s---.' If it's coming at your head, you turn your head because you don't want it to hit you in the face because I'm too pretty to be hit in the face. So you turn so it will hit you in the back of the head. If it's coming at your ribs, you turn so it will hit you in the back of the bicep. If it's going to hit you in the knee, you turn so it hits you in the back of the leg. It's amazing how quickly the human body can move when you're trying to avoid something hitting you. You have to know your soft spots."
And even the soft spots hurt.
"It's a helpless feeling up there," Tigers outfielder Brennan Boesch said, "when you know you can't get out of the way. At that point, you just pray it doesn't hit you in the face."
And yet, there is no time for prayer.
"There are two types of thoughts when the ball leaves the pitcher's hand," Indians outfielder Shelley Duncan said. "The first one, you see the ball, and about halfway to the plate, you have that 'Oh s---' moment. If you don't get ready for it, that's when you get hurt. The other one is the pitch that you know right away, you are going to wear it. You can turn your body, you get ready to get hit, but it all happens so fast. You have to make the adjustment because one second you are calm, then a split second later, your heart is racing."
Catchers have been known to yell, "Watch out!" when a pitch is headed for a hitter; the Yankees' Russell Martin has done that more than a few times. Braves outfielder Matt Diaz said, "I've yelled, 'Oh!' when the pitch was headed at me because I was sure it was going to hit me, then it didn't. I turned to the catcher, and he was laughing his a-- off. The umpire was chuckling. I said, 'I thought it was going to hit me.' They said, 'We did, too.'"
Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said, "Sometimes you just know it's going to hit you as soon as it leaves his hand, and you think, 'Oh, s---.' It freezes you up. You brace for impact."
"It was like my face was crushed by a bowling ball, a bowling ball going 95 mph."
-- Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, on being hit in the face by a pitch by Scott Erickson in 1995.
Some major league players can't remember anything about a walk-off home run they hit or a game-turning grand slam, but ask any player about the hardest he has ever been hit by a pitch, and he will have the answer, without hesitation, with complete detail, always including velocity. The pain at that moment of impact is unfathomable and unforgettable.
"Danys Baez hit me with 97 [mph] in the ribs in 2002," Hunter said. "I lost my breath. I was gasping for air. It hurt so much. The ball just dropped at my feet. Those are the ones that hurt the most, the ones that hit you and drop straight down. And what did I do after I got hit? I just picked the ball up and threw it back at [Baez]. At that point, it just hurt so much, I was seeing red. I couldn't think straight anymore. It hurt so much, I couldn't think."
That was Robin Ventura's hilarious excuse for famously charging the mound after being hit by Nolan Ryan, who got Ventura in a headlock and started pounding away. "He threw so hard, it hurt so much, I didn't know what I was doing, so I just took off after him because of the pain," Ventura said. "I got about halfway to the mound, came to my senses and said, 'What am I doing charging Nolan Ryan?' But I couldn't turn back then."
Diaz smiled and said, "I believe there is a connection that runs directly from your ribs to your brain. I got hit in the ribs; it was the worst. I kind of blacked out. When I woke up, I was yelling at [Marlins catcher] Ronny Paulino. Not smart. He's like 4 feet taller than me."
Mets third baseman David Wright said a shot to the ribs "will take your breath away. It's like jumping into freezing cold water. You need to take a knee to catch your breath. It hurts."
Swisher said, "I got hit by [Vicente] Padilla in the ribs at 97. I was so angry, I just charged the mound because he had thrown at me twice before. I couldn't feel the pain because I was so angry. Man, that s--- hurts. The average fan has no idea how much that ball hurts. I am amazed. I see screaming line drives go in the stands, and fans try to catch it barehanded. They are crazy. I wouldn't try to catch that ball with a glove on. But nothing is worse than one in the ribs. My bruise there lasted a good three weeks."
Said Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds: "The ribs are the worst. It's like getting hit with an uppercut but without boxing gloves on. It knocks the wind out of you. When you see the guy bending over at home plate, he is catching his breath. He's taking inventory to make sure everything is still there. When the guy strolls to first, he's not Cadillac-ing it; he needs 10-15 [seconds] to catch his breath and try to forget the pain. It is intense for 30 or 45 seconds."
Hitters say getting hit in the butt is the best place because it is flesh, not bone, and that getting one in the back doesn't hurt as much as a lot of other areas. Hunter disagreed, saying, "Getting hit in the back really hurts, too. I tell people, 'Take your shirt off and let me hit you in the middle of your back with my open hand as hard as I can, and see how much that hurts.' With a baseball, multiple that by two or three and that's what it feels like. When you get hit like that, it's going to leave a mark [and] it hurts for a lot longer than that."
"I was in Double-A, and [teammate] Melky Cabrera hit a home run, and he pimped it all around the bases, and I thought, 'Oh, no, I'm going to get killed here.' So Matt Lindstrom hit me in the back at 100 mph. When it hits you right, it's like someone slaps you in the face; it wakes you up. The pain eventually went away, but whenever someone touched me on that place that I was hit, it would hurt, and that lasted for at least a couple of weeks. The bruise starts out black and blue; it looks like the eclipse of the sun, the area around the mark left by the ball. Then it gets really blue. It is pretty neat looking."
-- Shelley Duncan.
Jones laughed and said, "That blue is just beautiful. It is so awesome what blood can do."
Hunter said hitters try to get hit in a soft spot. The knee is not a soft spot.
"Kevin Brown hit me in the kneecap, broke my kneecap, and I played with a broken kneecap for two months because I wasn't coming out of the lineup," Santangelo said. "Earlier in the game, I leaned in and took one off the thigh on purpose, and Kevin was so mad, he said, 'So, you want to get hit?' and he hit me in the kneecap with [a] mid-90s [fastball]. Years later, he gave me a bat with a bull's-eye on it and he signed it, 'To F.P., my favorite target.' I had to have surgery on that knee. It still hurts today all the time. He hit me in 1997."
"I got hit with a 97 mph fastball from Brandon League. It hit me on the top of the knee; if it had hit me lower, it would have shattered my kneecap. I take playing in the major leagues seriously; you'd have to kill me to get me out of a game. It happened in the seventh inning. I figured I would only have to catch one more inning. I could do that. The bigger problem was that it came two days after I got hit in the side of the head -- that required six stitches -- after being hit with the backlash of Albert Pujols' bat while I was catching. When League hit me, it really hurt, my leg went numb, but as I was jogging to first, the cut on my head opened up, I had blood running down the side of my face. So even though my knee hurt, it wasn't as bad as two days earlier. There is a scale of pain, a scale of feeling. Anything below the highest level doesn't hurt nearly as much as it should."
-- John Baker.
The Braves' Eric Hinske said, "Sidney Ponson hit me on the inside of the knee with a 95 [mph fastball]. I thought I had been shot with a gun. I went down like a sack of potatoes. But I stayed in the game. You wrap it up and keep playing. The lump on my shin was there at least a month."
"That's the worst pain I've ever felt on a baseball field," LaRoche said. "The ball hit me so hard, it bounced halfway back to the pitcher's mound. I went straight to the ground after that one. When I got back up, I had to take a knee. I was just trying not to throw up."
Rhymes fainted after being hit in the right forearm by a slider thrown by Franklin Morales on May 16.
"It all happened so fast," Rhymes said. "I was looking for a fastball in. He threw a slider. You have to stay in there; you have to stand your ground. As soon as he let it go, I knew it was going to hit me, [but] there was nothing I could do about it. When it hit me, I was stunned, but I thought, 'At least it didn't hit me in the head.' I thought, 'I broke my arm, but I'm glad it didn't kill me.' It was the first time I'd been hit on that bone. My arm felt dead; it went numb. There was tremendous pain, but I knew there was no one else to run for me. So I stayed in the game. I could run, but I knew I couldn't throw. When I got to first, I was angry because I knew my season was over. I was hitting .290. I was playing a lot.
"Then I started getting nauseous. I turned to 'Cuz' [first-base coach George Hendrick] and said, 'I think I'm going to pass out.' Before I even finished saying that, I had passed out. While I was out, I had a dream; I can't remember what it was about. When I came [out of it], I was looking at the ceiling of The Trop. It was a really weird effect, looking up at the ceiling. I came out of the game, my arm was hugely swollen, but it didn't get all black and blue. It took about 10 days before it felt normal again, but I played two days later. I've been hit by 95 before, but not quite like that, in that spot. It is still tender to the touch."
That was two months later, and it was still tender. It is like that when a 95 mph fastball hits a bone.
"I'd rather get hit in the head than in the wrist or the fingers or the hands," Reynolds said. "That can cost you a season."
Said Jones: "Brandon Morrow hit me with 96 on the wrist, and here it is at least a month later, and it still hurts when I do anything with it. But it's one of the things you have to do when you are a big leaguer. I ice it, but it doesn't help. The only way to get it better is to rest it, but there is no time for rest. This is major league baseball. It is a minor inconvenience. Deal with it."
Former major leaguer Aaron Boone, now an ESPN analyst, was hit 80 times in his career. "Jamey Wright hit me right on the thumb in the same year that I broke my hand and got hit on the wrist," Boone said. "It was September, I got to first base, looked at the first-base coach and said, 'Well, I just broke my thumb.' After the game and for the next 24 hours, the pain was unbearable. They put a pin in my thumb. The next season, I got off to a really bad start because I could not grip the bat. For the first month of that season, I couldn't take a swing in the on-deck circle without pain because my thumb still hurt from September."
Said Swisher, "I got hit in the back of the elbow by Jered Weaver. My fingers were locked in a fist for five minutes." Santangelo said, "I got hit in the elbow, and for four pitches, as I was leading off first base, my hand was locked like a claw. I couldn't unclench my fist."
But getting hit in the head is something different. That can kill you. Don Zimmer was hit in the head in 1952, back when there were no helmets. He was unconscious for 13 days and was in a hospital for 31 days. He lost 42 pounds, had to have four holes drilled in his head, and had to relearn how to walk and talk. Fifty years later, he placed his right thumb and index finger an inch apart and said, "I was this close [to dying]." Four years after that first hit, Zimmer was hit in the head again. His retina was detached. He was blindfolded for six weeks. He nearly died again, but he kept getting back in the box, and each time, he moved even closer to the plate.
Seitzer got hit in the head in 1989 by Jack Morris. "I was afraid to open my eyes because I thought I was dead," Seitzer said. "When I finally did, I saw Mike Stanley's shin guards. I knew I was alive." In 1994, Seitzer was hit in the right cheekbone by Melido Perez but played the next day -- the next day! -- even though doctors warned him that if he got hit in the same place, "My eyeball would drop into my cheek." Seitzer wore a protective bar on his helmet, but he took it off in 1995, then got hit by Erickson in the face. "That one hurt 10,000 times more than the first one," Seitzer said. He wore that protective bar until he retired two years later and said, "The only people in the world who could give me a hard time about wearing that are guys who were hit in the face twice -- no one else."
Tony Conigliaro was hit in the face by Jack Hamilton in 1967. Conigliaro made a remarkable comeback to hit 36 home runs in 1970, but he was never the same because his vision was affected. Astros shortstop Dickie Thon got hit in the head by Mike Torrez in 1984. Thon was never the same after that, mostly because he couldn't see, either. Biggio got hit in the head by the Cubs' Geremi Gonzalez in 1997. "I felt like I got hit in the head with a hammer," Biggio said. "My wife and our kids, and their class from school, were sitting upstairs in the luxury box. She was screaming, 'Please get up.'"
And he did. Big leaguers do. The rest of us don't.
"I got hit in the head twice," Reynolds said. "The first was in Arizona when the roof was closed. They had to help me off the field that night. I had a concussion. There was a ringing in my ear. When I was lying on the ground, I looked up, and it was like the roof was right on top of me. It kind of freaked me out until I could get my vision back. It was a little blurry. It was a little scary. But I only missed a couple of games."
Wright got hit in the head by a 93 mph fastball thrown by Matt Cain in 2009.
"I remember the sound, it was just like a thud, that's a terrible sound," he said. "Obviously, it hurt a lot. I got headaches for a week. But, you have to get back on that horse."
Kendall was once hit in the head by Danny Graves. "It was scary, but it hit me in the helmet, all helmet," he said. "It felt like I got cold-cocked, like you just got punched in the jaw. But, once you get your bearings if you know where you are, then you are all right."
"Never let them think they hurt you. Never. Just get your a-- down to first base."
-- Jason Kendall.
It is the ultimate unwritten rule in baseball.
"You do not show pain; that's the maxim, that's the code that ties in the locker room," Baker said. "This is not soccer. There is no yellow card that comes out. You don't lie on the ground for 20 minutes, then hop up and start running again. You have to have respect for the game, for the guys that came before you. You have to show respect to the guys that faced Bob Gibson without wearing a helmet. I am wearing an arm guard at the plate and a helmet that can take [the] 100 mph impact of a fastball. Ty Cobb didn't wear that helmet or those pads. Ty Cobb didn't rub it. There is a code of masculinity that exists in this game."
Baseball is a hard game played by hard men. It has always been that way. It always will be.
"When you get hit, you just run down to first base," Hunter said. "Sometimes, if you are hit in the back, you are gasping for air the whole way, but if you stop, you are a wuss. You can't do that. So you just take it like a man. After you get hit by a pitch in the back, you go in the family room after the game, and all your little cousins are in there, and they run up to you and slap you on the back, and you think, 'Oh, God, please don't do that.' But you can't yell at them because they are kids. You can't let little kids think you are in pain."
Baker said, "We hit Prince Fielder on purpose in the minor leagues, in Beloit, Wis. He hit a ball that went so far, he hit it 10 years ago, and it just landed the other day. He wouldn't run until it landed, so we were waiting and waiting and waiting for him to run. So next time up, we hit him in the shin. He reached down and pretended to brush off his shin, like a fly had landed on it. Then he gave our pitcher the death stare. Our pitcher was scared."
When you get hit, you just run down to first base. Sometimes, if you are hit in the back, you are gasping for air the whole way, but if you stop, you are a wuss. You can't do that. So you just take it like a man.
”-- Angels outfielder Torii Hunter
The pain is excruciating. "Anyone who says it doesn't hurt is insane," Boesch said. "It hurts, but adrenaline helps. The game is on national TV. Everyone sees you. Don't show it."
By showing pain, you are showing respect to the pitcher.
"You don't want to give that satisfaction to the pitcher," Diaz said. "He might think his stuff is good that day. But if he hits you with 96 and you just walk to first, he might have a doubt in his mind. He might say, 'Maybe my stuff isn't that good.'" Said Santangelo, "I've seen pitchers get rattled when you don't show it hurt. You get them off their game."
No matter how hard you get hit, no matter where, Jones said, "You can't rub it, don't rub it, don't rub it. You are a major leaguer. You can't rub it. Go somewhere where the cameras can't see you or else the fans will be all over you."
And so will your teammates.
"[Padres first baseman] Yonder [Alonso] got hit in the back. He walked through the clubhouse, and everyone would slap him on the back where it really hurt; that's what 5-year-olds we really are," Baker said. "If you limp through the clubhouse after getting hit, three or four teammates will be limping right behind you, mocking you. Spring training 2009, my last at-bat, I got hit right in the a-- with a sinker. I had two half-moons on each butt cheek, half of a baseball on each butt cheek. It was like I had stood in front of a pitching machine and let it hit me right up in there. I looked so funny. My teammates railed on me for about three days, but you have to take it. That was a very comedic bruise."
But it's not funny. In some cases, the pain is greater than the machismo.
"I got hit in April by [Neftali] Feliz in 30-degree weather at 100 mph," Boesch said. "I had to take a moment at the plate. There was no way I was sprinting to first base after that. I'm sure once Will Rhymes came to [his senses], his teammates had a lot of fun with him after that."
LaRoche smiled and said, "After I got hit in the knee by Josh Johnson, I had to take a knee. I didn't care what my teammates said. Let 'em laugh all they want. I need a second here."
"Fear of the ball is the deep dark secret in baseball that players don't talk about. It is a crossroads for players. You can't have courage unless you're afraid. If you don't have fear, there's nothing to be brave about. Everyone fears that little white sports car."
-- Joe Torre.
To acknowledge fear of the ball is to acknowledge weakness, which is not in a player's constitution. Only on occasion, and usually with humor, does anyone acknowledge fear publicly.
"The most scared I've ever been was facing Erick Threets of the White Sox in the minor leagues," Baker said. "He was a big left-hander throwing from three-quarters, and he was all over the place. I got way in the back of the box, like Henry Rowengartner from the movie 'Rookie of the Year.' I was not up there to get hit in the face. I had some fear."
Everyone has fear. "Fear of the ball is real, dude," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. Former third baseman Larry Parrish once said, "It is there all the time, with every hitter. That was the whole idea behind Goose Gossage. It's why Ryne Duren took his glasses off when he pitched."
Former outfielder Ken Harrelson, now a broadcaster for the White Sox, once said, "I played nine years with fear. Everyone has it. I can't remember a hundred at-bats when I didn't have fear. I almost quit my second year in the big leagues because I was so afraid. One day in Kansas City, Al Kaline, one of my idols, walked past me. He saw my fear. He said, 'We all have fear at the plate,' and kept on walking. That helped."
Harrelson was a good major league player. He dealt with his fear by moving closer to the plate, which is what separates the major leaguers from everyone else. They get hit, and they get back in there. Sometimes it takes some time. Former major leaguer Gary Ward was hit in the face by Dan Petry in September 1983 and struggled terribly during the first half of 1984. Then, one July night in Baltimore, he turned off all the lights in his hotel room after a game and told himself to get past the fear or his career was over. And he got past the fear.
"Cody Ross got hit in the face against us when he squared to bunt," Diaz said. "The next day, he led off the game with a home run. Incredible. It is in our DNA to get back in the box."
The Padres' Carlos Quentin seemingly has no fear. He has been hit 105 times in 655 games, more times than Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were hit in 8,691 games combined.
"Quentin is not going to move," Baker said. "He's not afraid of anything. He is the epitome of the alpha male in baseball. He is not going to show weakness. He gets hit, and he doesn't care. In the minor leagues, we used to hit him on purpose. It's just his style of hitting. He defends home plate, and he does so in an offensive way. He comes from the Stanford way of doing things, team overrides everything, anything to win, any way to get on."
Hinske shook his head and said, "Reed Johnson and Chase Utley are that way; they do not budge up there. That doesn't make me any less of a man or any less of a player than them, but they don't have a flinch mechanism at the plate. I do. I will jump out of the way."
Kendall will not.
"I just got used to it," he said. "I got hit. I went down to first base. If you have fear, you will never have success in this game. It's a part of the game. But the game has changed. If you get a bruise now, you come out of the game. That's not the way I played. My old man [Fred Kendall] played in the big leagues. They played their a--es off back then [in the late '60s and '70s]. You play with bumps and bruises. I've had concussions. For six to eight months a year, you get the s--- beat out of your body. It's hot, it's cold and you get hit by pitches. I was the guy that snapped his ankle, started a lot of fights and got hit a lot."
The Rays' Sean Rodriguez also gets hit a lot.
"He's never afraid," Rays shortstop Elliot Johnson said. "He gets hit all the time. And we never have to wonder who that is yelling from our bench to take one for the team. It's Sean."
"For me, it goes back to little league. My dad taught me, you will do whatever it takes to get on base and win a game -- anything," Rodriguez said. "There are times when you're going to have to wear it, so wear it. There is a fear factor, but you can't have any fear. You have to get back in there. So you get back in there. I want to get back in there and get that pitcher's a-- for what he did to me. I scream out, 'El equipo,' which means 'team' in Spanish. I don't always yell it. I don't yell it when Evan [Longoria] is at the plate. I don't yell it when the count is 2-0 or 2-1. But if the count is 0-1 or 0-2, I will scream it, even at Evan."
Diaz said, "If I get hit on an 0-2 or 1-2 pitch, it's like, 'Yessss!' Or if you are struggling and you're facing a guy you can't hit and you get hit, it doesn't hurt and you're not scared."
It really does hurt and they really are scared, but major leaguers are able to deal with it because that is their job, and it is what they have been conditioned to do. When the rest of us would be running for our lives, they move closer to the plate, dig in and get hit again.
"With baseball players, you take one of two options, fight or flight," Baker said. "Most players choose the fight response." Said Diaz, "I would say that of all the players, major leaguers are the most insane. Back in little league, when the smart kids got hit by a pitch and it really hurt, they went on to do something else with their lives. We got back in the box. There's a fine line between being brave and being stupid, but this is who we are."
Shelley Duncan's father, Dave, played in the major leagues, and so did Shelley's brother, Chris. They grew up in the game, which is why Shelley can say, "Pain threshold is different for everyone. I always say, 'It's just a baseball. How can it hurt you? It's just a baseball. What does it weigh, 6 ounces? How can anything that weighs 6 ounces hurt you?' For what I get to do for a living, I think I can put up with getting hit with a ball once a month."
Baker, a catcher, gets hit nightly by foul tips, balls in the dirt and pitches.
"I have just come to the understanding with myself that I'm going to get hit," he said. "But I weigh 210 pounds, and the ball weighs 6 ounces. So, in that matchup, I like my chances."