There has been widespread speculation that Mets third baseman David Wright is afraid of the ball since returning from being beaned on Aug. 15, 2009. I don't know that to be the case, and I don't know that we, or he, will ever know.
I don't know Wright, I don't play baseball for a living, and I've never seen what it's like to face a major league fastball, let alone get hit in the head by one thrown at a speed greater than 90 mph.
But I know someone who has, and can relate his story. "Baseball Tonight" analyst Eduardo Perez, son of Hall of Famer Tony Perez, was hit in the head in both the minor leagues and major leagues, and also got hit in the head after fouling off a bunt attempt. Perez played professional baseball from 1991 to 2006. On Aug. 29, 1997, he came to bat against Twins pitcher Mike Trombley, and in the eighth pitch of the at-bat, with the count 2-2, he got hit in the head with a fastball. It changed the way he approached the game for the rest of his career.
After Saturday's "Baseball Tonight," I asked Perez to share his thoughts, specific to his situation, and he obliged. How he feels doesn't necessarily reflect how Wright feels, since every person reacts differently. But it should give us all a better perspective on what it's like for someone to get hit in the head.
"It was the third time I'd gotten hit in the head. It's scary, scary after the fact. Because my first reaction was I covered my left eye. That's how hard the pressure was. It came through my left eye. I thought I lost my eye.
"I knew what guys who had post-concussion syndrome feel, and to me, that's scary. After I got hit, I didn't 'feel' for four months. You don't care. You don't feel. You're pretty much like a zombie. And then to get back in the box … I thought the best thing to do was get right back in there. [Editor's note: He was quoted in the newspapers the next few days as saying, "It won't affect me at all. The ball doesn't bite."]
"I got back too early. Some guys take a long time. It was probably the worst thing I did. It affected my play and my numbers [he hit .138 with 19 strikeouts in 63 plate appearances for the rest of the season after returning], and it made me very aware of how dangerous it is to get hit again. I didn't want to get hit.
"Your first reaction is to fly open. You tend to be conscious of that inside pitch. I was very exploitable at the plate, especially against right-handed pitching.
"I don't know how long it took me to get over it. I don't know if I ever got over it because I know that after the fact, I changed my stance, ended up getting away from the plate more. I would automatically stride to the plate more. So I moved away from the plate, and started measuring the distance with the bat to make sure that I was always protected. I would stand 8 inches further away against right-handers than left-handers for the rest of my career.
"I got a cataract in my left eye in A-ball. I was trying to bunt and the ball ricocheted off the bat and hit me in the left eye. That's my lead eye, and I didn't see rotation well after that. I still don't. I think that's the main reason I got hit [by Trombley]. I was very conscious of that. I couldn't pick up the spin of the ball until late. Nobody knew about my cataract when I played. I cheated through my eye exams, because if I didn't pass an eye exam, who would sign me?
"I feel like I could write a book about this. I was in the hospital for five days in A-ball, in Palm Springs in 1992. I was a top prospect for the Angels. I was hitting .360 or so when I got hit. I went down to .314 and then got called up to Double-A. I hit .230 and I wasn't right. All of a sudden, I was hitting with a cataract in my left eye, and there was nothing I could do with it. My dad said, 'You played 13 years in the majors with one eye. You should write a book.'
"That's why I can tell when pitchers are tipping their pitches, because I had to learn to look at anything to help me out. So I learned how to tell when pitchers were tipping [Perez hit .256 for the rest of his career, and hit .237 against right-handed pitching, an improvement from what he did prior to being beaned]. That's another book in itself, tipping pitches. Especially with right-handed pitchers, it was good to know when the slider was coming from right-handers, or the changeup from lefties.
"[Tigers rookie] Austin Jackson got hit in the head the other day … the first thing I thought of was me. Any time I see someone get hit, I think about it. You get hit in the head, it's always going to be with you. You could bounce back, but it's always going to be in the back of your mind. Any time a pitch comes up and in, you're gonna react."
Mark Simon is a researcher for "Baseball Tonight" and a frequent contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.