Speedy Span seeing ball better
LASIK eye surgery helps outfielder recognize pitches
MINNEAPOLIS -- Heading into the 2008 season, Denard Span knew the Twins were seeking a leadoff hitter. So the outfielder made a change this past offseason to try and become the type of tablesetter the team needed.It wasn't anything that had to do with changing his swing or necessarily altering his approach at the plate. What Span wanted to do was improve how he was seeing the ball during his at-bats. So the outfielder had LASIK eye surgery on his right eye. "I started noticing my right eye getting a little blurry the last year and a half," said Span, who rejoined the Twins for the second time this season on Monday. "I would go up to the plate and not know what the heck I just swung at. I would come back to the dugout and people would ask, 'What did he throw you?' And I couldn't tell them. But I definitely see a difference now. Even if I do strike out, I know what pitch it is." The change didn't earn Span the starting center-field job out of Spring Training. But he arrives back for his second stint with the Twins this season having shown that he still might be that ideal leadoff hitter. After batting just .267 with a .323 on-base percentage for Triple-A Rochester in 2007, Span's numbers have drastically improved this season. He was batting .340 with a .434 on-base percentage in 40 games for the Red Wings when he got the callup on Sunday to replace Michael Cuddyer, who went on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained knuckle in his left index finger. That hot streak wasn't even slowed when Span broke his finger last month and missed four weeks. When he returned to the Red Wings in mid-June, the outfielder continued to flourish. But despite his emergence as a tablesetter, Span won't be taking over the leadoff spot for the Twins. Manager Ron Gardenhire said Monday that he's content to stick with Carlos Gomez in the role for now. "I know he's not the prototype leadoff guy, but he's having fun and when I sit here and the game starts, I don't turn my head," Gardenhire said of Gomez. "So I'm going to let him do that for a little while longer. If I have to make a change, and want to put Span up there, we can do that too. But you know what? Go-Go is pretty exciting up there, and he ignites us." Span got the start in right field against the Tigers and was slotted into the No. 9 spot in the order. That put Span, Gomez and Alexi Casilla together in the order, providing the Twins with a speedy trio for when order turned over. For Span, this second stint with the Twins could mean that his chance to play in the Olympics this August is likely gone. Span was selected to the U.S. team for the All-Star Futures Game at Yankee Stadium on July 13, which was also set to be the country's Olympic Trial team. That meant Span was one of 60 players who could compete for the U.S. in Beijing. But while Span seemed excited about the possibility of playing for his country, the chance to make a permanent stay in the Majors was more important to the 24-year-old. "I always dreamed of being a Major League Hall of Famer or an All-Star," Span said. "I started feeling like it would be kind of awesome to play with USA on my chest. But I'm definitely happy I'm here. I'll definitely take this for now."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.