Illustration: Elena Scotti (GMG), Photo: Shutterstock

Welcome to Meat Sack, a guide to sports-related body horror. Today’s column is about Yadier Molina’s exploded nuts.

It’s tempting to wax poetic about the possibility of intelligent design when wrasslin’ puppies or making eye contact with a dolphin, but the dream collapses on itself when I remember how many mammals are running around creation with their legacy bits stuffed into little purses stitched almost directly to their buttholes. (Most of them anyway, kangaroos have their balls attached in front of their dicks, but I digress.) Nature is many things but, as scrotality suggests, she sure ain’t beholden to common sense. Birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians all keep their heritage gems up inside their bodies; some mammals, like elephants and whales, do it, too. Baseball players, however, do not.

Back on May 5, our unfortunate Yadier Molina took a deflected 102-mph fastball directly to the dick and balls, organs which baseball decorum demand be dangled near home plate with alarming precarity. He was rushed into surgery for an injury that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch referred to as a “traumatic hematoma.” Given the location of trauma and subsequent bleeding, we can deduce that Yadi was whisked under the knife to deal with a scrotum full of blood.

So, what does a testicle expert think about Molina’s injury?

“Unbelievable,” says Dr. Ajay Nangia, Professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Urology at the University of Kansas Health System. “Can you imagine that injury without a cup? Oh my God.”

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(Note: While the Cardinals have remained mum on whether or not Molina was becupped during his injury, a video teammate José Martínez posted to his Instagram seems to imply that Molina does wear gonadal protection during games.)

Though we don’t have the specifics of Molina’s nut trauma, I am nonetheless very curious about the nature of these injuries. What, exactly, happens when a testicle gets hit really, really hard? Short answer: they pop.

Each testicle is snugly wrapped in something much like a thinner version of the Achilles tendon, the tunica albuginea. These twin sacks, white and made of collagen, are connected by a septum but, for all intents and purposes, they are separated, each working to keep all sperm-containing bits safely contained. (Fun fact: it’s generally held that the term testicle comes from the Latin for witness, specifically from the phrase testis unus, testis nullus. It means “one witness, no witness” because it takes two to corroborate a story. Testify!)

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So what happens if you break the tunica albuginea? “Like cracking the shell of an egg, of course the insides leak out,” says Nangia. Except instead of jiggly egg whites and runny yolks, each testicle is full of a soft, mushy tissue: sperm tubules. When the testicle is damaged and this goo begins to leak out, it is called a fractured testicle.

A fractured testicle is a problem for a number of reasons. When things are running smoothly, the body has a clever trick to keep itself from mounting an immune response to its own sperm: the blood-testis barrier. See, immune tolerance—the ability of the body to consider certain things non-threatening—happens long before the body begins to make sperm. By keeping sperm and blood separate during this time, the body never learns to see its own Baby Sauce Swim Team as “self.” Because of this, if given the opportunity to meet said swimmers, the body will develop antigens against them. This is a problem because when you have a fractured testicle, sperm is getting exposed to blood. “Once that happens, the immune system can react against the sperm,” which can lead to problems with infertility later on, Nangia explains. Fractures of this nature may also lead to structural changes that affect fertility, causing blockages to the ducts that move sperm out of the testicle.

“If you can catch it in time, like the baseball player, you can take them to the operating room,” says Nangia. “You can repair it, put everything back in and sew the edges of the lining.” If the swelling is too much, surgeons can remove some of the testicle, then reconstruct it. Sometimes the damage is so severe that one or both testicles must be removed entirely.

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Even with a cup, damage can still occur. While there are Kevlar cups on the market, other materials can crack, puncturing the scrotum and anything else in its way. Other people have horror stories of getting pinched when a sliver of nut was snuck out of their cup at impact, underlining the importance of a good fit. And even if everything works as intended, you still have what Nangia describes as “the effect of having a ball going 102 mph stopping to zero, and all of that energy then causing the shock effect to the cup. When the ball stops, all that energy gets transferred to the cup or the testicle.”

But balls, though breakable, are not such delicate things that they cannot handle some fun too.

“They can take a surprising amount, though it varies from person to person,” according to Princess Tori Lux, a professional dominatrix. “An important thing to remember is to be sure [the testicles] aren’t under pressure or taut, say from being tied up, as striking them could then cause them to burst.”

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So, how much pain can a pair of testicles take? Lux says she’s hit them with her knee, hard and fast, “like in the movies.” She’s also hit them with a crop fairly hard. “I’ve had them lay down, spread their legs, taken the crop and pulled it back, then released it, sort of like a slingshot. That gets a pretty good impact.”

Queasy at the memory of getting beaned in the nards? Take heart: science knows why testicular pain makes people nauseous. In utero, the testicles start at the level of the kidneys, high inside the abdomen. During development, a special ligament drags the testicles down the body as they follow the path of descent.

“Usually by birth [the testicles] are down in the scrotum” Nangia explains. “But the nerves for the testicles therefore actually come from the abdomen.” That is, even though the testicles are down in the scrotum, they still have nerves going up into your body. “So when you hit the testicle, the referred pain is to the nerves of origin, where they came from.”

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And that’s why you feel nauseous.