Confident in eyes, Freeman has clearer picture
Braves first baseman to wear contacts and protective non-prescription glasses
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After proving to be one of the baseball's top performers through the first five weeks of the 2012 season, Freddie Freeman spent the next five months battling a variety of issues. The Braves first baseman began experiencing blurred vision in early May and then nearly broke his left index finger during the first week of June.
These ailments were regularly documented as Freeman struggled to gain consistency with his powerful left-handed swing. Often overlooked was his constant battle to gain confidence in his ability to see well enough to handle the task of hitting at the big league level.
"I never had that 100 percent confidence in my eyes," Freeman said. "All of the sudden, I would move my eye to the left, feel something and think, 'Here we go again.' I think a lot of it was in my head and I wasn't trusting my eyes."
Those who remember the many different ways Freeman attempted to solve his vision problems should have an understanding of the excitement he felt when he arrived at Champion Stadium on Thursday afternoon and found a pair of specially fitted Under Armour glasses waiting in his locker.
Unlike the pair Freeman attempted to wear last year, this new pair of clear lens glasses do not include prescription lenses. His plan this year is to wear them to protect against foreign particles entering his sensitive eyes and blurring the corrected vision he will gain from his contact lenses.
"If I can just block everything out, it will be great," Freeman said. "My eyes are so sensitive that if one thing gets in there, it's over."
Freeman will wear these glasses whenever he is on the field, except when he is batting. When he attempted to wear the glasses with the protective lenses last year, he was bothered by a blind spot created by the nose piece.
If Freeman reaches base safely, he will grab the glasses that first-base coach Terry Pendleton will hold whenever the 23-year-old first baseman comes to the plate.
Freeman's eyes received a clean bill of health after he went three months without wearing contact lenses this past offseason. Because his vision could continue to change for a few more years, he is considered to be too young to undergo Lasik surgery.
"I've only had confidence in my eyes this spring," Freeman said. "Hopefully I can have that confidence going into the [regular season]. Like they say, everything is 90 percent mental. I was in my own dome last year about my eyes."
Freeman has batted .345 (10-for-29) with a home run and a triple through his first 10 games of the Grapefruit League season. Along with having confidence in his vision, he has also had the benefit of gripping the bat without the left index finger discomfort that he constantly felt after getting hit by a ball thrown by then-Marlins shortstop Jose Reyes on June 6.
"I feel great," Freeman said. "I'm just getting the [repetitions] now. I'm starting to get antsy now. I've been here in Florida for more than a month. It's time to get back to Atlanta. But I've got to keep doing the reps, because there is going to be that one week where for some reason I can't hit the ball."
Everything seemed to be great on May 7, when Freeman earned his second National League Player of the Week Award in a span of five weeks. But as he was taking batting practice at Wrigley Field that day, he began battling the vision problems that would bother him the remainder of the season.
Other than the fact that his contacts were bothered by the windy conditions at Coors Field the previous three days, Freeman had not previously experienced vision problems.
"I went out for batting practice and my left eye was blurry," Freeman said. "I went back in, switched my contact [lens] and it just stayed blurry. I thought maybe it would go away when it got dark. I just kept putting drops in and playing through it."
Freeman batted .298 with six home runs and a .864 OPS in the 28 games that he played before his vision became a problem. In the 119 games that followed, he batted .249 with 17 home runs and a .777 OPS.
While many players would appreciate putting up those latter numbers at 22 years old, Freeman understands that he could have been even more successful had he not been bothered by the sore finger and the constant battle to find comfort with his contact lenses.
"I think the problem was last year I kept putting [the contact lenses] in and out and putting drops in," Freeman said. "There was so much stuff going in my eyes, that [my eyes] just freaked out. Then my fingernail would scratch my eye because I was trying to put them in so fast. A lot of things went wrong so fast."
Now Freeman is preparing for this season with confidence and the comfort of knowing he will be well protected -- he will likely begin the season as Atlanta's cleanup hitter. That role will give him the opportunity to bat between the dynamic duo of Justin Upton and B.J. Upton.
"I never felt comfortable last year," Freeman said. "I never felt confident. If I can keep [my eyes] good, everything else should be OK."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.