Robinson Chirinos was never so happy to get smacked in the mask by a baseball.

The haunting symptoms from the concussion he sustained six months earlier finally gone, the medical people finally relaxing the restrictions and special handling and clearing him for game action, all that was left was for Chirinos to actually get back behind the plate.

He had run and thrown and swung the bat, he had caught pitchers in the bullpen, he had blocked balls in the dirt. But it wouldn't be until he got hit by a foul tip — which is what caused this whole horrible ordeal that March afternoon — that he'd know for sure.

"I was a little scared," he admitted.

In his second game with the Rays' instructional league team in September, he took one in the mask. All good. Then again the next day. No problem. He went back to his native Venezuela for a couple months of winter ball, and it was just like normal.

"I was like, 'All right, when I get hit, let's see what happens,' " Chirinos said. "The best part was it was nothing. I got hit a lot of times. And I felt good."

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When the Rays open spring training this week in Port Charlotte, Chirinos, 28, may be the happiest of the 60-plus players to be there, eager, to put it mildly, to resume his once-promising career after essentially losing an entire year.

"I'm ready to go," he said. "Everything is fine. I'm back to where I was before."

Acquired from the Cubs in the January 2011 Matt Garza trade, Chirinos played a month for the Rays that summer, the high point an Aug. 4 celebration when he had a tying single in the 11th and a walkoff hit in the 12th.

He came to spring training last year with a shot, albeit long, for the backup catcher's job, but that all changed on March 11.