The game of baseball is about skill. The skill of hitting, pitching and at times, taking one for the team.
In this, one of the best seasons in Kentucky baseball history, the Wildcats are taking one for the team at a furious pace.
UK currently ranks 7th nationally in being hit by a pitch. Wildcat batters have been hit 72 times this season.
While a walk or being hit by a pitch is just as good as a basehit, it can be slightly more painful.
“I kind of enjoy it, actually,” said UK left fielder Zac Zellers. “It gives me a chance to get on base and that's what you need to win games. Baserunners.”
The Wildcats actually practice getting hit. During batting practice, softer baseballs, called Incrediballs, are added in with regulation baseballs. Occasionally, one is thrown at a Wildcat, who is instructed to stand in the batters box and withstand the hit. It’s a method used to desensitize the players when they face live pitching during games.
“It stings a little bit,” added UK third baseman, Thomas McCarthy. “We kind of joke around about it behind the cage, but it's just for a couple of seconds. It's not a big deal.”
“It makes you mad a little bit, but you just go along with it,” former Henry Clay outfielder Cameron Flynn said.
“Not much can go through your mind, other than to just wear it and move on to the next one,” Matt Reida said, the team’s shortstop.
Being hit by a pitch is one of the integral parts of the UK offense. The Wildcats have led the nation is this department before, but UK assistant coach Keith Vorhoff said learning how to be hit by the pitch, starts in batting practice in the cage. It’s about safety.
“Most importantly, we teach those guys how to get hit correctly. For them to be a good hitter, it's important for them to hold their ground, to keep their feet underneath them,” Vorhoff said. “But within that, we want our guys to get hit by the pitch safely.”
With composite bats, the college game means hitters crowd the plate to protect the outer part of the strike zone.
“To be able to cover the outer half, a lot of us stand pretty close to the plate. We go by the theory that we don't move,” Zeller said.
UK led the nation in 2010, being plunked 106 times.