PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When the Mets' Jordany Valdespin was hit in the "groin area" by Justin Verlander's 94-mph fastball on Monday, many in the sports, media and Twitter worlds turned into giggling 12-year-old boys -- especially after Valdespin later revealed that he was not wearing a protective cup.
Valdespin was one of those laughing -- after he got up off the dirt around home plate, where he had been lying face down with waves of nausea crashing through his body. Valdespin left the game but returned to the Mets' lineup three days later wearing a cup for the first time in his life.
Mets manager Terry Collins wasn't laughing. Neither was Dr. Ajay Nangia, an associate professor of urology and male infertility specialist at the University of Kansas Medical Center. He has seen more than his share of serious, life-changing injuries suffered by young athletes who were not wearing hard plastic devices to protect their testicles.
"It's funny -- right until the time they go to the operating room to have their testicle removed," Nangia said. "You know what? That's not funny anymore."
When told Valdespin had escaped unharmed, Nangia said: "Lucky him. Who would play baseball and face a fastball and not wear a cup? This is something that, in my opinion, is a men's health issue."
A man getting hit in the crotch has been such a staple of lowbrow humor on TV and in movies for so long that it's surprising Shakespeare didn't work it into one of his comedies. And the laughter Monday, once it became clear that Valdespin wasn't seriously injured, extended from the stands to the press box to the Tigers' and Mets' dugouts.
Valdespin was hit because he was squaring to bunt and left himself exposed. Collins also was annoyed that the 25-year-old decided not to wear a cup that day because he was playing second base. Catchers, pitchers and infielders are more likely to get hit in the groin than outfielders because of their proximity to the batter.
Valdespin, a natural second baseman, has spent most of his time with the Mets in the outfield. But it didn't matter where he was playing on defense: He had never worn a cup.
"It's just uncomfortable with my . . . right here," Valdespin said as he searched for the right, family-friendly words. "When you move around, you feel that. I'm going to try one. See how it feels."
Said former Mets pitcher and current SNY broadcaster Ron Darling, "You'd be surprised how many players don't wear cups."
The Mets know about this: Infielder Argenis Reyes, then at Triple-A, had to have emergency surgery after he was hit in the groin by a ground ball. He was not wearing a cup.
One of the most famous major-league examples is that of then-Seattle Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre, who in August 2009 was hit in the right testicle by a ground ball. Beltre stayed in the game and even scored the winning run five innings later before it was discovered he had suffered a torn testicle.
Beltre went on the 15-day disabled list; fortunately, he did not suffer any permanent damage. When he returned, he was ordered by the club to start wearing a cup. He did. For a few games.
"It was the first time I was hit," Beltre said the following March. "They say I'm crazy not to wear the cup. But I say, if the ball's going to hit me there every 111/2 years, I'll take my chances.''
Obviously, he's not the only one.