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Major League Monday: Former Woodchuck Kevin Pillar Brings Physical, Emotional Toughness to Mets

Former Wisconsin Woodchuck and current New York Met Kevin Pillar has come full circle since suffering a scary injury on May 17.

Hit in the face by Braves reliever Jacob Webb’s 94 mph pitch in Atlanta, he fell to the ground before being taking to the hospital for evaluation. “Scary moment, but I’m doing fine,” Pilar tweeted after the incident.

Forced to battle physical pain as well as mental and emotional adversity, Pillar has come roaring back in the month of June.

When the 32-year-old homered on a June 20 game at Washington, it was his fourth home run of the month. He had previously gone deep twice in a June 9 game at Baltimore.

He missed two weeks after the hit by pitch in the National League East matchup. But he fought to return as soon as possible.

“If I could see a little better, I’d be fighting about me being in the lineup today,” is what Mets manager Luis Rojas was told from Pillar.

The California native returned on May 31, still dealing with some facial swelling around the nose and below his eyes. He wore a protective masks during games around his nose, upper cheeks and forehead while continuing to recover from his injury.

Pillar described the mask–which he wore for most of early June–as “an extra layer of skin.” But for fans of teams the Mets traveled to play, Pillar has been the subject of unfortunate treatment.

“I don’t even notice [the mask] now except when [fans] make fun of me in the outfield,” Pillar said while the Mets visited San Diego for a three-game series June 3-5. “People are rude and people are mean, people come to the games and feel entitled to say what they want to say. I would say it’s all in good fun.”

In a June 19 Q&A with the New York Post, Pillar explained his fearlessness, humility and workmanlike mentality in wake of the injury. His keys to toughness include, “just not making excuses, and having the willingness to kind of have mind over matter when it comes to injuries.

“I don’t see it as something that’s inspirational, I think it just shows my commitment and my love and my willingness to want to help this team win. I feel like I’m part of a special group of guys that’s been able to overcome a lot of things this year,” he told the Post.

Pillar is hitting .243 on the year with New York, along with six home runs. The ninth-year Major League Baseball veteran is a career .262 hitter with 87 homers.

In college, the outfielder set an NCAA Division II record, recording a hit in 54 consecutive games. He left California State University, Dominguez Hills as the program’s all-time leader in career batting average (.367).

Drafted in the 32rd round of the 2011 MLB Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, he inked a signing bonus of just $1,000. But Pillar rose through the Jays’ farm system in an astonishingly rapid fashion, going from the Rookie Leagues to the Big Leagues in just two years.

Pillar was with Toronto through 2019, before being traded to the San Francisco Giants and subsequently spending 2020 with the Boston Rex Sox and Colorado Rockies. His one-year deal with the Mets in 2021 is worth $3.6 million in guaranteed cash.

In 2010, Pillar played 69 games for the Woodchucks, batting .282 in 280 at bats. He hit three home runs to go with 79 hits, 28 runs batted in, 24 stolen bases and 19 walks. The Chucks went 42-28 that season, good for second place in the Northwoods League South Division and a playoff spot.

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The Wisconsin Woodchucks are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. The 27-year old summer collegiate league is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 22 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff, over 200 former Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS), two-time World Series Champions Ben Zobrist (CHC) and Brandon Crawford (SFG) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (BOS), Jordan Zimmermann (DET) and Curtis Granderson (TOR).  All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League portal. For more information, visit www.woodchucks.com or download the new Northwoods League Mobile App on the Apple App Store or on Google Play and set the Woodchucks as your favorite team.