Washington Nationals' Dan Uggla hits the ball during batting practice at a spring training baseball workout, Sunday, March 1, 2015, in Viera, Fla. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
David Goldman
March 02, 2015

VIERA, Fla. (AP) Dan Uggla was actually relieved last year to hear a doctor tell him he was ''really messed up.''

That happened last August when Uggla visited Dr. Robert Donatelli in Las Vegas and discovered there was a way to correct the faulty vision that had plagued him since the 2012 season.

Now at 34, the three-time All-Star is in Washington's camp as a nonroster player, hoping to jump-start his career.

''The good thing for me is I don't have to worry about how are my eyes,'' he said. ''I can just go out and play and see what happens.''

From 2006-2013, Uggla was one of the most dangerous middle infielders in baseball, hitting 231 home runs during stints with Miami and Atlanta. But late in the 2012 season, the second baseman started having problems seeing the ball.

The trouble continued into the 2013 season, when he hit 22 home runs but batted just .179.

Then came 2014 when Uggla hit bottom. He had just two home runs and batted .149 with 46 strikeouts in 141 plate appearances with the Braves and the San Francisco Giants.

Though Uggla admitted he got into some bad habits, his biggest issue was being able to pick up the ball, especially on breaking pitches.

''I couldn't see the spin on the ball,'' he said. ''I would see it out of the hand, and then kind of lose it a little bit and then I'd pick it back up again. It just wasn't crisp like it normally was.''

Released by the Giants last Aug. 7, he went back to his home in Georgia to regroup. He never considered retirement.

Uggla's former Atlanta teammate, Marquis Grissom, helped put him in touch with Donatelli, who had previously worked to correct Grissom's own vision problems.

As it turned out, Uggla had 20-15 vision when his head was still, but 20-100 vision when his head was moving. It was caused by an inner ear imbalance, possibly the result of concussions. Uggla was hit in the head in 2012 while playing in Miami, and again in spring training of 2013 against the Yankees.

''I went out there hoping there would be something wrong that he could fix. He told me I was really messed up,'' he said. ''In my situation, I was happy to hear that.''

To correct the problem, Uggla went through a series of exercises, including jumping on a trampoline while blindfolded.

''There were tons of different exercises,'' he said. ''A lot of blindfolded stuff, a lot of tracking stuff with your eyes.''

Once Uggla's vision started improving, all he needed was a team that would give him a chance. He found it in Washington where he had a relationship with both general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Matt Williams from their days in Arizona, where Uggla was an 11th-round pick in 2001.

The NL East champion Nationals acquired Yunel Escobar from Oakland in the offseason to play second base. Washington also has Danny Espinosa, a better defensive player than Uggla.

Earlier this spring, Rizzo said Uggla would have to be the best second baseman in camp to make the roster. On Sunday, Williams said he has liked what he's seen from Uggla, but added, ''he's got to play well, like everybody else.''

That's fine with Uggla.

''I'm here for competition,'' he said. ''I'm here to see what happens and try to help this team any way I can. I'm excited about it. It reminds me of when I was a rookie, trying to win a job. It's going to be a fun spring training and whatever happens, happens.''

You May Like