Half Blind, All Baseball Pitcher
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Seven years ago, you would doubt that Juan Sandoval would be where he is today, and that's in Port Charlotte, Florida in spring training with the Tampa Bay Rays. Mr. Sandoval is a pitcher, a right-handed reliever. And he was a promising prospect in 2006 when he was having dinner with his fiance - now his wife - in the Dominican Republic and a dispute broke out at the other end of the restaurant. Someone fired a shotgun and Juan Sandoval, a bystander, was hit with three pellets in his right eye. Mr. Sandoval is now half-blind. He can only see out of his left eye. But after the incident, he got back to pitching, and for a while in the Mexican leagues. And now he has been invited to the spring training with the Rays and is trying out for their official roster. Juan Sandoval joins us now from Port Charlotte. Thanks very much for being with us, sir.
JUAN SANDOVAL: Oh, thanks, thanks, a lot. I appreciate the opportunity.
SIMON: What's different about pitching and fielding for that matter with just the one eye?
SANDOVAL: Oh, of course, a little different, you know, with everybody else because I do not have depth perception now. Right after the accident, you know, it was kind of tough to at least catching ground balls.
SIMON: Do you worry about the line drive or the fast grounder that might go through your legs more than you would otherwise?
SANDOVAL: No. I'm not afraid of any of those things that you just mentioned. I cannot be, you know, afraid of some things and trying to get people out at the same time. It's too hard to do it. So, I just get concentrate on getting my hitters out and whatever happens, happens.
SIMON: What about the pick-off play, when there's a runner on base? Is that more difficult than it used to be?
SANDOVAL: No. Because I'm a big believer that God works in mystery ways, you know. Because if I wouldn't have my left eye, it would be tough for me to be pitching still at that point.
SIMON: You're a right-handed pitcher, yeah.
SANDOVAL: Yes. I'm right-handed, so when the runner is on first, I look with my left eye. And when he's on second, I turn my whole head over there like everybody else do it. And when the guy's on third, you know, he the one to be worried, not me.
SIMON: He's the one to be worried, not you.
SIMON: Did you have to change the way you pitch or what you throw?
SANDOVAL: Oh, not really. After, you know, it was seven years now, and I think I got all the weapons ready. And I believe I'm in the best shape of my career right now. So, this is what I keep saying. I've been really blessed, man.
SIMON: Do you think, Mr. Sandoval, that this accident made you see life differently, made you see baseball differently, helped you try harder?
SANDOVAL: It makes it a lot different but in better ways, because being close to what I love make me appreciate it more every single moment I'm wearing the uniform. And after the accident, you know, many good things has happened. I married my wife, I have three kids now. And I have one of the best opportunity, you know. I was dreaming (unintelligible) here with the Tampa Bay Rays. So, if I have to change something, I wouldn't change anything because I like the person I am right now.
SIMON: You hope to leave spring training and play for the major league team, for maybe the high minors? What's your goal?
SANDOVAL: Of course, my goal is, you know, to break out with the team. Because if I don't believe it, I'm going to be wasting my time here. So, I'm putting all the effort I have here. But if not, I will go whenever they think they need me and just keep putting the best I have to be in the big leagues anytime this season.
SIMON: So, you're going to beat the Yankees someday?
SANDOVAL: We're going to beat everybody we're facing someday.
SIMON: Juan Sandoval, relief pitcher trying out with the Tampa Bay Rays spring training in Port Charlotte, Florida. Mr. Sandoval, good luck to you. Thanks so much for speaking with us.
SANDOVAL: Oh, thanks a lot. And thank you for the opportunity.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.