NORTH PORT, Fla. — One can almost sense the relief in Braves outfielder Eddie Rosario’s voice as he explains why this spring is different. After all he went through last season, he finally feels free of what held him back.
“I feel more comfortable,” Rosario said. “I feel more happy. “It’s more easy to play the game, and you can do what you want every day.”
Last year, Rosario dealt with vision issues. He reported them to the team in late April, and visited a retina specialist, who recommended surgery. The outfielder underwent a laser eye procedure to correct “blurred vision and swelling in the right eye,” the Braves said at the time.
At that point, it all made sense.
Rosario had started the season 3-for-44 over his first 15 games. Given what he experienced, it’s almost amazing he struck out only 10 times.
“It’s tough, man,” Rosario said. “When you can’t see the ball, everything changes. Everything changes. You can’t change (and be better).”
At the plate, Rosario looked lost. In the field, he committed three errors – on one of them, he simply missed a ball in right field.
“You can’t do too much (when you can’t see),” Rosario said. “It’s tough to (see a) fly ball, it’s tough to recognize the pitch when it’s coming. Now everybody throws hard and throws sliders, and last year I lost (the ball). The ball is coming, I (would) lose the ball. It’s tough, man.”
Asked what caused the vision issues, Rosario seemed unsure. Rosario, who said he wore contact lenses in 2021, said his vision progressively worsened over the years.
“I think every year, my eyes went weird – more and more and more weird, more weird, more weird,” he said. “I don’t know. Last year, when I came to spring training, I didn’t see the ball really good. I said, ‘Hey, I can’t see the ball.’”
Rosario wanted to be himself, but his eyes prevented him from doing so. He worked hard. He tried everything. Nothing worked.
“I was fighting last year for everything. But I don’t want to think too much about last year,” Rosario said about tracking fly balls, though the statement could’ve applied to anything in baseball. He wasn’t the same.
Everyone felt for him.
“It breaks your heart,” hitting coach Kevin Seitzer said. “We were trying to make adjustments with his swing and he’s like, ‘I can’t see.’ What do you do? If you can’t see, you can’t hit. Mechanical adjustments didn’t matter. We could see it in the cage, we could see it in (batting practice), it just wasn’t the same Eddie from the year before. But this year, this spring, has been awesome.”
“He tried to gut through that,” manager Brian Snitker said. “And it’s a big deal when you can’t see. I mean, it’s one thing to be banged up and your arm may be barking a little bit or (you’re) playing with a tight hamstring or something. When you can’t see, you can’t play this game. … He tried to get through it, couldn’t, and now, I’d say he’s a different guy.”
Rosario said his vision returned to 100% normal – where he could see everything clearly – over this offseason. He said he’s taking vitamins for his eyes.
If he hits like he has in the past, Rosario most likely will be the Braves’ starting left fielder. And the early evaluations are positive. “He looks so much better, and way better than at any point last year,” Seitzer said.
The Braves have a group of left fielders fighting for roster spots, but Rosario seems like a near lock. He’s in the final season of a two-year, $18 million deal.
“I feel good,” Rosario said. “I feel like the same guy, but I feel more healthy. I worked and I had a good offseason. Play my game. Last year was so different, but I want to try to be the same guy I was before (the eye issues).”
This weekend marks Rosario’s final couple of days in camp with the Braves before he departs for the World Baseball Classic. He’ll play for Team Puerto Rico, which is an honor for him.
“That’s everything for me, man,” Rosario said. “I’ve represented Puerto Rico (in the tournament) two times. It’s awesome, it’s a different feel. I love baseball, but when you play for your country, it’s more special.”
He later added: “When I was a young kid, my dream was to play major league baseball, but when I saw Team Puerto Rico when I was a kid, I thought, ‘I want to be there.’ It’s more special.”
From his debut in 2015 through the end of the 2021 regular season, Rosario posted a .782 OPS. During the Braves’ World Series run, he went on a tear and eventually earned NLCS MVP after helping the Braves dethrone the Dodgers.
Rosario wants to be that guy again.
When he looks back on the 2023 season after it ends – hopefully deep in the fall – he wants to have stayed healthy and had a great season. He appears to be past the vision issues, which should help him be himself again.
“I did everything the doctor told me, the team told me,” Rosario said.
He paused for a second.
“I’m back,” he added.
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