New York Mets third baseman David Wright realized he could not escape the 94 mph fastball whizzing toward his head halfway between right-hander Matt Cain's release of a two-strike offering and its impact.
"It was not so much getting hit. It was knowing you probably weren't going to be able to get out of the way -- just kind of a helpless feeling, just being there and knowing you're not going to be quick enough," Wright recalled about the fourth-inning incident on Aug. 15, 2009, at Citi Field, which resulted in him spending the night at the Hospital for Special Surgery with a concussion.
Wright will step into the batter's box against the San Francisco Giants this weekend for the first time since the beaning. Cain is scheduled to pitch Thursday night against the Florida Marlins and isn't due to face the Mets in the series, although Wright insisted he's not relieved by avoiding another encounter.
"It could have happened to anybody, and any pitcher could do it,"Wright said. "You're kind of glad you're missing him just because he's good. At the same time, if we would have been facing him, I would have been in there and felt fine."
Cain appeared to have the odd reaction of tipping his cap to the jeering Citi Field crowd when he left the game four innings later last summer, although he insisted at the time he was just adjusting it. Regardless, he quickly reached out to Wright.
"I was in the hospital so I missed the call," Wright said. "But he texted me. He just wanted to make sure I was all right. And then I saw him at the ballpark the last game of the series. He came up and just wanted to make sure I was OK and let me know obviously it wasn't on purpose -- just one that kind of got away from him."
Wright had lingering effects from the concussion for the next couple of days -- "trouble sleeping, and some headaches and some dizziness," he said.
"But after the first few days, it went away pretty quickly."
Perhaps still stung by the poor handling of Ryan Church's concussion and the public-relations backlash that resulted the previous season, Mets general manager Omar Minaya and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon insisted Wright go on the disabled list for the first time in his career. Wright resisted. He knew September was right around the corner and was hoping the team could get by until the roster expanded. But Minaya and Wilpon, along with team doctors, insisted it was in his best interest to take some time off.
"They were pretty emphatic that I go on the DL and make sure I got everything right," Wright said. "I like playing. I don't want to sit and have to watch. I wanted to go day by day. I don't think I would ever do something that would intentionally try to be hurtful to me. But, at the same time, I didn't think it would take two weeks for me to get back in there and get fully healthy."
When Wright finally returned against the Colorado Rockies on Sept. 1 wearing that oversized "Great Gazoo" helmet that led to ribbing from teammates and opponents, the beaning inevitably crept into his mind. Wright flinched on some up-and-in pitches the remainder of the season. He hit a paltry .239 with two homers and 35 strikeouts in 109 at-bats the rest of 2009. Wright suggested that had far more to do with rustiness and poor hitting mechanics than any direct link to the concussion.
"It's just that I felt mechanically I was off toward the end of the year," he said. "For me, it was more important to get back in there and just see some pitches than get back in there and necessarily do well. It was more about getting back in there and making sure going into the offseason that I had some at-bats and I felt confident and comfortable going back into the box."
How long did the hesitance last?
"By the end of the year I felt comfortable," Wright insisted. "Obviously, the first few games back it's going to be in the back of your head. You're going to be just a little cautious about it."
Hitting coach Howard Johnson was among the spectators horrified by the direct hit. "It was very scary," Johnson said. "That's the first time I've seen him get hit like that. To see him go down like that is a tough thing. Real tough."
Johnson added it was normal for some players who have never been hit to flinch when they see the ball coming in at them. "He's one of those guys who never had that issue," Johnson said. "And when you get hit, it shows up. It's not that you control it. It's subconscious. And it eventually goes away after enough at-bats."
After a slow start this year, Wright takes a nine-game hitting streak into the Giants series, which has lifted his season average to .286. He homered for the fourth time during the six-game road trip Wednesday against the Cincinnati Reds. Wright has seven long balls this season, tied with catcher Rod Barajas for the team lead. Wright didn't reach that homer total until July 31 last season, when he finished with only 10 homers.
"For me, it really is about driving in runs," Wright maintained. "If I don't hit home runs and I'm driving in runs, then that's what I need to do. Part of driving in runs -- and what the team needs -- is occasionally hitting home runs. It's a big momentum boost. There's no question about it. But I don't feel like, and I'm not going to say, that just because I've hit a couple of home runs this year that I think that's a big part of my game, because I don't feel like it is."
After being content slapping the ball to the opposite field last season, Wright has a more attacking style this year. He said another major difference to his approach at the plate is his relative consistency.
"I don't feel like I'm really tinkering with a lot of things like I was last year," Wright said. "I'm just trying to relax and not trying to do too much and change and make adjustments between pitches."