North Carolina coach Mike Fox doesn’t see it as Cody Roberts’ protective cup failing him when he was hit with a foul ball in the groin area last Sunday in a game at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Despite Roberts needing surgery a few hours later, Fox credits the cup for preventing his junior catcher from suffering more serious injuries.
“I don’t know that it failed,” Fox said. “I think the cup saved him.”
Roberts’ injury came just eight days after St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina was hit by a foul ball in a similar fashion during a game with the Chicago Cubs.
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Despite also wearing a protective cup, Molina also needed surgery a few hours after being injured. In his case, a hematoma formed and began to grow. He’s expected to miss at least four weeks.
Roberts was injured in the seventh inning of UNC’s 8-6 win over Duke when Blue Devils' senior infielder Jack Labosky fouled off a pitch. The ball went straight off Labosky’s bat into Roberts, who immediately fell to the ground and needed several minutes to compose himself before being helped to the dugout.
“It’s one of those things that’s unavoidable,” Fox said. “I feel bad for him more than anything else.”
Dr. Selene Parekh, a Duke orthopedic surgeon who also offers sports injury advice at thefantasydoctors.com, said even the best protective cups can't prevent injuries 100 percent of the time in squatting catchers.
"It prevents the majority of injuries," Parekh said. "Basically what's happening is the area is taking a ball at a very high velocity."
Parekh, who is not involved in Roberts' care, also said "the cup doesn't adequately cover" the entire area, so getting hit can still cause injury.
Later Sunday night, Roberts had surgery at UNC Hospitals to address his injuries, which have not been specified.
“He was in good spirits that night, not even knowing what was going to happen,” Fox said. “He was here at practice the next day. From a mental standpoint, he’s a really tough kid.”
Parekh said hematomas, such as what happened with Molina, and other injuries in the groin area that can cause the blood supply to be cut off, are the two serious injuries to be concerned about in these situations. Both require immediate surgery. He said 1-2 weeks is the common time for a return to play because the incision needs time to heal.
Protective cups, normally made of hard plastic, are standard equipment for baseball catchers, from youth leagues to the major leagues. While they help lessen injury, they aren’t indestructible and, as has been proven, can’t totally prevent injury.
Fox remembers when noncatchers routinely wore cups.
“A scalded line drive came into left field and the fielder lost it in the lights,” Fox said. “It hit him and the cup shattered. So I’ve seen worse.”
Though Roberts expects to play for the Tar Heels again this season, Fox said the recovery time is uncertain.
“I haven’t been specifically told by the doctors yet because it’s too soon,” Fox said. “But I know from our standpoint, what we heard initially, from Cody’s standpoint, he’s certainly planning on playing again this season.
“The doctors are going to tell him when. But mentally you’ve got to deal with it as well. Some of it I’m sure is going to be pain tolerance and the risk of further injuries. I’m sure that will be the two biggest questions of when he’ll be back.”