ST. LOUIS -- They were strangers when Victor Caratini stepped into the batter's box to face Daniel Poncedeleon during a school-day game at Principal Park in Des Moines, Iowa, last May. What happened next left the Iowa Cubs catcher and the Memphis Redbirds reliever forever connected.
Poncedeleon regretted the pitch as soon as it came out of his hand. What was designed to be a sinker, down and away, instead arrived flat and center-cut. Caratini drove it up the middle. Poncedeleon couldn't lunge out of the way quickly enough, and the ball struck him in the skull. Scars and a small dent remain as a permanent reminder.
The sequence of events that followed -- Poncedeleon being carted off the field, rushed to a Des Moines-area hospital and brought in for emergency brain surgery -- has been thoroughly documented during his recovery and return. But Caratini's role in it did not begin and end with that lone at-bat.
Caratini was among the first to visit Poncedeleon at the hospital. He came back a second time, too, this time carrying a home-cooked meal of plantains, rice, beans and seasoned meat that his wife had prepared for the family members who had gathered from out of town.
Caratini and Poncedeleon got to visit once again this past weekend. And this time, they did so as big leaguers.
"I couldn't be happier for him that we're both up here in the Major Leagues, and thank goodness everything went well," Caratini said while the Cubs were in St. Louis. "Everybody has the goal of being in the Major Leagues, and I'm really happy for him."
Caratini arrived in the Majors first, making his debut last summer as Poncedeleon rested at home, still waiting for the swelling around his brain to subside. Poncedeleon took a Major League mound for the first time July 23, capping his comeback story with seven no-hit innings against the Reds.
Poncedeleon was called back up to the Majors on Friday, the day the Cubs arrived at Busch Stadium for a three-game series, and the timing allowed Caratini and Poncedeleon to visit for the second time this year. One month earlier, the two had reunited back at Principal Park. The Cards righty has helped Caratini shed the guilt of being the one who stalled Poncedeleon's climb through the system.
"When he came to visit me in the hospital, you could tell he was hurting more than I was," Poncedeleon said. "I said, 'It's all right. It's not your fault. You did your job.'
"He's a really good baseball player, and he's a really good human being."
Between last year's incident and this year's reunion, the two remained in touch with occasional texts. Caratini would check in on Poncedeleon's recovery. Poncedeleon reached out when Puerto Rico was devastated by a hurricane last August.
Their conversation preceding the one in person at Busch Stadium, came a few days prior, following Poncedeleon's sensational debut. Caratini reached out to congratulate the right-hander. Poncedeleon offered the perfect retort:
"Congrats on making your pitching debut before me."
Caratini, who had been summoned to pitch in a blowout loss against the Cardinals just days earlier, laughed.
"It's something random that happened," he said. "It's a fun story to tell later on."