Nine months ago, some of Daniel Poncedeleon's loved ones feared he might not walk or talk, let alone pitch, again -- if he survived the effects of the line drive that struck him in the head in a Triple-A game.
Poncedeleon was off to a good start to the season and the game last May 9 for the St. Louis Cardinals' Memphis Redbirds, until a shot off the bat of Iowa's Victor Caratini hit him near his right temple. The right-hander endured emergency surgery to alleviate pressure on his brain, followed by a couple of weeks in intensive care in Des Moines and then three months of inactivity at home in Florida.
Poncedeleon, who turned 26 last month, is now planning to get married on Wednesday to Jennifer Beatty, the mother of their son Casen, born Thanksgiving Day, 2016. And next week -- on Valentine's Day -- he's to participate in the Cardinals' first official spring workout for pitchers and catchers.
"I want to prove to them I'm ready to go and they have nothing to worry about with the head," Poncedeleon told ESPN's Outside the Lines on Monday. He said his arm feels great through six months of resumed activity and he is ecstatic over his invitation to the Cards' big league camp, after team officials attended some of his recent throwing sessions.
One change since his last, fateful game, Poncedeleon said, is that he'll be wearing a hard carbon fiber cap insert to provide some head protection. He said that he and his father researched safety devices and focused on the contoured 1.7-ounce SST Pro Performance head guard that the Angels' Matt Shoemaker told OTL he started wearing after a Sept. 2016 line drive to the head had life-threatening consequences.
Another product Poncedeleon tried during the offseason is the hybrid cap-helmet tested and approved by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association and offered since 2016. But he said that although it felt fine, it's big and bulky, draws unwanted attention -- even laughs -- and nobody has worn it in a game.
"This didn't look funky," Poncedeleon said of the SST insert. The insert's manufacturer has never submitted it for MLB/MLBPA testing, but pitchers are not breaking any rules by wearing it, as it doesn't interfere with competition or licensing agreements.
The Diamondbacks' Robbie Ray, who was also hit in the head by a liner last year, told OTL he wears the SST insert. And several Cardinals pitchers and the Astros' Collin McHugh have said that they do, too.
Poncedeleon said he has seen the video of what happened in Iowa last spring numerous times and is pretty sure the liner that struck him would have hit the cap insert, had he been wearing one. So when he trains at his alma mater, Embry-Riddle University, he delivers a message to pitchers that he says should be heeded at all levels, including the majors.
"I think all pitchers should wear something in their hats, I really do," Poncedeleon said.
"I think it could save them from all the bad stuff."