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Dan Shaughnessy

Getting into a sensitive area

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / March 3, 2010

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FORT MYERS, Fla. - Cup or no cup? That is the question.

It’s a delicate issue regarding a delicate area. The punch lines are infinite, but it’s not funny when a guy gets hit in his testicles and he’s not covered by the triangular hard-shell plastic designed to protect a man’s private parts.

It’s a topic in the Red Sox spring camp of 2010 because new third baseman Adrian Beltre doesn’t wear a cup and was seriously injured last summer when a ground ball took a bad hop and crushed Beltre in the right testicle.

The Mariners were playing the White Sox in August when Beltre was struck by an Alexei Ramirez grounder in the ninth inning. Amazingly, Beltre stayed in the game, singled in the 14th, and scored the winning run on a hit by Ken Griffey. Not bad for a guy with a torn testicle.

He paid the price later.

“When I look down, after the game, it wasn’t a pretty sight,’’ Beltre said. “My testicle got the size of a grapefruit. Thank God it didn’t really damage anything. It took me two weeks. It was a tear. A lot of blood inside, but it didn’t damage anything. Everything is OK.’’

Beltre went on the 15-day disabled list after the bad hop to the crotch. In his first game back, Griffey got the Seattle game presentation folks to play Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite’’ when Beltre stepped into the batter’s box at Safeco Field.

This is baseball, people. Nothing is sacred. And everybody’s a comedian.

Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu insisted Beltre wear a cup when he came back from the injury. It didn’t last long.

“I wore it for a couple of days so they think I’m wearing it,’’ said Beltre. “After that I stopped. At the end of the year, I was back to natural.’’

But why on Earth would he go back to the hot corner without protection?

“That’s a good question,’’ Beltre said. “I don’t know yet. I’m going to try it in spring training and see how it goes. I should, but it just doesn’t seem comfortable. I tried to wear it before, but I just don’t feel right. It just isn’t comfortable.’’

Beltre turns 31 next month. A native of the Dominican Republic, he signed with the Dodgers when he was 16 years old and made it to the majors when he was 19 in 1998.

“When I came through the Dodger camp, they forced me to use it,’’ Beltre recalled. “But I told them I can’t play like that. I feel like I can’t move, so I never had to wear one until last year.

“I never wore one again until last year after I got hit. It was the first time I was hit. They say I’m crazy not to wear the cup. But I say, if the ball’s going to hit me there every 11 1/2 years, I’ll take my chances.’’

Beltre has won two Gold Gloves. He has been brought to Boston to improve the defense. He is considered the best in the business.

But playing third base, commando style? Reminds me of the late Ricky Nelson singing, “Fools rush in where wise men never go.’’

“In 2003, we [the world champion Marlins] had an infield with Derek Lee, Luis Castillo, and Alex Gonzalez, and none of them wore a cup,’’ said Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. “But I’ve got to believe it should be mandatory. I’ve worn one since I was 7. I’d never play without one.’’

Lowell underwent testicular cancer surgery in 1999 and is president of a foundation that aids cancer treatments. Still, he can’t discuss the cup topic without making a joke.

“You could saw my cup in half and it would still work,’’ said the veteran.

“Outfielders don’t wear them,’’ said Kevin Youkilis, who has spent significant time at both corners in the infield. “A lot of people don’t wear them. I think a lot of pitchers.

“You’re always taking a risk. The first week wearing one is not very comfortable, but you get used to it. To me it’s habit. I don’t go out there without it. Ever. Mine’s definitely been hit a couple of times.’’

Dustin Pedroia agreed.

“Once you get hit there, you want to wear one,’’ said the second baseman. “[Beltre] is probably the only one here that doesn’t. That’s risky business.

“Sometimes those hard-hit balls that hug the ground, you try to get in front of them, but they hop up on you and they’ll hit you underneath. If you don’t wear a cup, it’s going to do some damage and it makes you talk funny for a while.’’

This is baseball. Nothing is sacred. And everybody’s a comedian.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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