A 15-year-old bruise? That's one reason Rangers hitters seek extra protection

Jeff Wilson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram on

Published in Baseball

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Were the biggest, most troublesome bruise on Adrian Beltre's left shin a human, it would be a high school freshman who later this year would be getting its learner's permit to drive.

Oh, it's definitely alive nearly 15 years -- 15 years! -- after making the future Hall of Famer's leg its permanent home. It is also the reason Beltre wears a protective guard each time he takes an at-bat.

"The first one was 2003," he said. "If I get a foul ball there, it blows up."

More and more, Texas Rangers players are protecting themselves at the plate in a sport in which a generation ago almost no players went to bat with anything more than a helmet.

Players haven't become soft. On the contrary.

They want to stay on the field as much as possible, and an injury from an errant pitch or foul ball puts that in jeopardy. They want to be as assured mentally as possible that they are as safe as possible when facing a major-league pitcher.

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There is no such thing as too much equipment, except, for some strange reason, the cup.

"I always like to have protection so I can get on the plate, and if I get it, it's not going to mess me up," first baseman Joey Gallo said. "You don't really even know it's there. You don't have to practice in it or anything. If I didn't have it, I'd feel naked. You just feel unprotected. You don't have it, you're thinking about it. For me, it became normal."

The Rangers don't insist that players wear protective gear, except in the case of a prior injury. All equipment must be MLB-approved, so it's not like a player can go up to bat in a suit of armor. Sometimes it looks that way, though.

Left-handed hitters who throw right-handed are the most protected, especially when facing a lefty pitcher. Lefty hitters have to stay in longer against lefties to recognize if the pitch is a fastball or a breaking ball, so their time to bail on an inside heater is reduced.


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