Cardinals’ second baseman Kolten Wong survived a scary moment on Saturday night when a 97 MPH fastball came hurtling at his face. The pitch, lobbed by the Reds’ Luis Castillo, caught Wong on the mouth guard extension of his batting helmet and sent it flying behind the plate.
Shaken, Wong fell to the ground following the hit by pitch, but was quickly able to get to his feet and walk around the infield before taking first base. Were it not for the unique design of his batting helmet, however, he believes he would have lost a few teeth — or worse — to the pitch.
“Right where the ear and the protector connects, it hit me right there,” the infielder told reporters following the Cardinals’ 4-1 win. “If I don’t have that, I’m spitting out teeth.”
That’s certainly been the fate for other major leaguers during similarly brutal hits, including the Mariners’ Mitch Haniger and Diamondbacks’ Chris Iannetta. Facial fractures, concussions and varying contusions are all possibilities when a ball comes at your face at a high speed, and Wong explained that he decided to don a more protective helmet in Spring Training after watching other players sustain serious head injuries.
At least on Saturday, his precautionary efforts paid off. The added mouth guard isn’t a perfect solution for fending off wayward pitches, nor is it anywhere close to being implemented on a league-wide level. Perhaps, just as Robbie Ray‘s recent concussion inspired several pitchers to adopt protective cap inserts, Wong’s near-miss will serve as a timely reminder that some of the serious damage incurred by a hit by pitch can be avoided (or, at the very least, scaled back) in the future.
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Major League Baseball has told Cardinals infielder Kolten Wong that he has to get rid of the colorful arm sleeve he’s been wearing, pictured above, that pays tribute to his native Hawaii and seeks to raise awareness of recovery efforts from the destruction caused by the erupting Mount Kilauea.
[Wong] has been notified by Major League Baseball that he will face a fine if he continues to wear an unapproved sleeve that features Hawaiian emblem. Wong said he will stash the sleeve, like Jose Martinez had to do with his Venezuelan-flag sleeve, and find other ways to call attention to his home island.
None of these guys are being singled out, it seems. Rather, this is all part of a wider sweep Major League Baseball is making with respect to the uniformity of uniforms. As Goold notes at the end of his piece, however, MLB has no problem whatsoever with players wearing a non-uniform article of underclothing as long as it’s from an MLB corporate sponsor. Such as this sleeve worn by Marcell Ozuna, and supplied by Nike that, last I checked, were not in keeping with the traditional St. Louis Cardinals livery:
If Nike was trying to get people to buy Hawaii or Venezuela compression sleeves, I’m sure there would be no issue here. They’re not, however, and it seems like creating awareness and support for people suffering from natural, political and humanitarian disasters do not impress the powers that be nearly as much.