Juan Sandoval is one of the brightest talents to take the field at training camp for the Tampa Bay Rays, but his arm isn’t the only thing the other guys are curious about; behind the sunglasses he usually wears is a right eye rendered completely blind by a tragic act of violence.
When Rays starter Matt Moore asked whether Sandoval could be accurate with only partial vision, Jake McGee–Sandoval’s throwing partner during training–assured him he is.
“You can’t even tell when you’re playing catch. He’s got a really good arm. Comes out strong. And it jumps.”
Sandoval says that despite overcoming the physical pain and heartbreak from losing the eye–and retraining himself on how to pitch and catch–he doesn’t want to be looked at any differently on the field. He’s there to do one thing, and according to those who have seen him on the field, he does it awesomely.
“What happened is not something I’m carrying all the time, wearing on my chest so people can know,” Sandoval said. “I don’t think about it. I’m just a normal player here. I don’t know how many – 50 players here? I’m one of 50 in the clubhouse. I’m a normal person, a normal player. I don’t like coaches or nobody giving me credit – or limits.”
Sandoval’s story is incredible, though, which makes it difficult for anyone who meets him to not be completely impressed by how far he’s come. In 2006, Sandoval was at a restaurant with his wife when a man who had been kicked out of the establishment returned with a shotgun to get revenge. The blast hit Sandoval, who was just 25 years old at the time, in the right eye with three buckshot pellets. The next year would be spent in a slow recovery, and the doctors gave him the difficult news: he would never see out of the eye again despite a 7-hour long surgery.
He began slowly retraining himself, getting his bearings in order to throw and catch accurately with only half his eyesight, and later spent time in the Mexican League after being rejected by multiple organizations. But eventually, his talent would catch up to him, and it got him noticed.
“I’m betting this: The fact that he has limited vision is why he hasn’t been signed,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “Because when you look at body, arm stroke, results the last couple years, he should’ve been signed now. Somebody would’ve given him a chance if he had two fine eyes.”
It looks like that chance could very well be on its way, as things are looking great for Sandoval as he trains with the team.