Only a few of Juan Sandoval's teammates know what happened. Everybody who meets him in the Tampa Bay Rays clubhouse notices his right eye, of course. It's impossible to avoid. The lid droops. The cornea puffs out and is slightly discolored. A red ring encircles it. And a glaze sheathes it, like there's a permanent tear ready to escape, only it never does, never can.

They don't know because they don't ask, and they don't ask because they don't want to stir any bad memories. And even if they were to, they probably wouldn't believe Sandoval. Because the idea of a blind baseball player really is that difficult to fathom.

Never will he forget the day: Feb. 4, 2006. And the scene: At a restaurant where a drunken man, angry with the bouncer who booted him, returned with the shotgun. And the noise: A blast, loud and furious. And the feeling: Panic and fear and chaos as three buckshot pellets lodged in his eye. And the sight.

"Black," he said. "Nothing but black."

It's still black, permanent darkness out of the right side of his head, his depth perception nonexistent and his left eye forever tasked with transmitting the world into his head. And because his left eye remains good – better than it's ever been, in fact – he is still here, still playing baseball, still trying one more time to reach the major leagues after years on the cusp as a right-handed pitcher, standing on the rubber and staring in with that good eye.

The story of how Juan Sandoval came to be a Tampa Bay Ray is one of this spring's best, and even if he is a long shot to make the team now, this is no gimmick, no publicity stunt. It is about an organization that looks high and low for talent, a city in the Dominican Republic that produces it in spades and a player getting one final chance to fulfill what he's certain is his birthright: wearing a major league uniform for the first time, at 32 years old.