When I look back on the black days that followed the incident in which I almost lost my life and then my eyesight because of a badly pitched baseball, I wonder why I didn't go crazy. All my life things had seemed to go my way. I never had any doubts that tomorrow would come and it would turn out all right. Now, suddenly, I realized I didn't know what tomorrow would bring. I was sick and confused inside, and the worst part of it was that I couldn't tell anybody about it. I have always kept my feelings locked within myself.
In late November, when things seemed bleaker than ever, I went again to see Dr. Charles Regan, the ophthalmologist, and, surprisingly, he had encouraging news for me, the first since my accident. He said it looked as if, even though the inner wall of the cyst in the macula had broken, the eye had stabilized and there had been no further decrease in vision. He saw no reason why I couldn't resume normal physical activity. "We can't predict how it will be for you," he said, "because the imbalance between the vision in your right and left eyes is an individual thing, and playing baseball requires special skills. I'm not sure whether you'll have more difficulty hitting a ball or catching it. Try everything. Only you can tell."
It was a hopeful sign, but I knew I still couldn't see and wouldn't be able to tell for sure until I went to spring training and swung at a live pitcher again. As I walked out of Dr. Regan's office I was still afraid to close my right eye to see what the left eye picked up. When I looked straight out of the left eye alone, things were fuzzy and soft but objects slightly off to one side appeared normal. Dr. Regan had explained that my peripheral vision had not been damaged but that my direct vision—what they call macula vision—had been. That's the vision that enables you to pick out the spin on the ball and to judge the distance it is from the bat in your hands. And I just didn't have it.
The next few months were the most miserable of my life. I was horrible to everyone around me and to myself. I had few dates, and when I did go out with girls I treated them terribly. I treated my family just as badly. I had very little patience with anyone or anything. I sulked most of the time.
In January I began going out about twice a week to Harvard, where they had an indoor batting cage. Darrell Brandon, one of our pitchers, usually threw to me. Even though the people watching me were impressed, I knew I wasn't making good contact with the ball. It was hard to pick out and the lighting wasn't that good. But I'd hear people say, "Boy, he's back in the groove again." They didn't know what they were talking about. The only guy who wasn't fooled was me. I knew I had to talk to somebody, and I trusted Buddy LeRoux, our trainer, who worked out with me some days. One day I said to him, "Buddy, I can't keep this a secret any longer. My vision is not good."
Buddy stared at me. "What are you saying, kid?" he said.
"I'm working as hard as I can at seeing that damn thing, Buddy, but it just doesn't look the same," I told him. "At times my depth perception is way off. I don't know where the ball is. I don't know if I can make it this year."
Buddy shook his head and said, "I don't ever want to hear you say that again. You'll make it. Stay with it."
We got to Winter Haven, Fla. in time for the first day of camp. It was like an old-fashioned reunion in the clubhouse. The guys swarmed around me and told me how good I looked and wished me luck. Red Sox Manager Dick Williams took me aside and told me I could train on my own. "You can do anything you want. I won't push you," he said. "When you're ready to play in a game just let me know. If there are some pitchers who are going to give you trouble we'll just keep you out of the lineup. Everything's up to you this spring." That's all the man had to say to me. He never once asked about my eye or how I felt. O.K., I said to myself, that's the way it is. I know, though, that I let it get under my skin.
I tried to forget my feelings about Williams, but I could feel the pressure building up. My father and my Uncle Vinnie and a lot of neighbors from Swampscott, Mass. were all around me now. I know they meant well. I know I needed my father around. But everybody was shouting advice to me. I felt I was under a microscope, and all I wanted was privacy to work things out for myself.