Juan Sandoval is the feel-good story of spring training. He's a pitcher that has overcome unbelievable odds to return to the mound.
"Well, I hope it continues, the feel good," said Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey. "That means he's pitching really well, too. It is a great story."
It's an inspirational one. Sandoval can't see out of his right eye. He lost his vision seven years ago after being struck by stray shotgun pellets. It was a major setback, but the former Seattle Mariners prospect never gave up on his major league dream.
"I never had a doubt about it," said Sandoval. "Inside I always believed. I remember the first thing that came to my mind when that happened. When I found out I wasn't going to see again. I thought, well, Jim Abbott pitched with just one hand. That had to be harder."
Sandoval owes this second chance to Rays reliever Joel Peralta. His fellow countryman called Andrew Friedman this winter and urged the Rays V.P. to give him a chance.
"If you didn't know what his situation was physically you would never know," Hickey said. "There is nothing that he does that you say, ‘OK, that's right, he can only see out of one eye.' He handles the ball well. The only thing I personally would be worried about would be the line drive comebacker, but obviously, he's been doing this for quite some time. He's told me personally that he really doesn't have any problem with that."
Having one good eye is not stopping Sandoval from throwing strikes, but admits a loss of deep perception took getting used to.
"The toughest thing is when I came back was to catch the ground balls," he said. "I don't have the deep perception now. That was the hardest part to adjust. Anything else I've been blessed. Just grabbed the glove, came to the field and I was able to do everything I was able to do before."
This is the first spring Sandoval has been with a major league team since 2007. He's spent the last two years in the Mexican League working his way back for one final shot. While he's still a long shot to make the Rays' roster when camp breaks, manager Joe Maddon sees potential.
"I was not concerned really because he pitched so well in Mexico," said Maddon. "The body is going to compensate somehow with those kinds of deficiencies. I wasn't worried about that."
"I heard the arm was that good, and it's been that good to this point," he continued.
With a fastball that's been clocked at 97 miles hour, Maddon would have no hesitation at some point adding Sandoval to the Rays.
"If we keep him and he pitches Triple-A," said Maddon. "I would never walk away from the fact that he can't see out of one eye."
At this point for Sandoval, it's all out seeing strikes.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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