PORT CHARLOTTE — Justin Ruggiano's offseason had a storybook feel to it.
The Rays outfielder got married in Mexico in January and vacationed for 10 days in the Bahamas. Soon after, Ruggiano and his wife, Shelly, found out they would be having their first child. It's due in August, about the time the home they're building in Dallas should be finished.
But Ruggiano's baseball season was almost over before it began.
Due to an unexpectedly long recovery from eye surgery in October, Ruggiano said he wasn't healed until last month.
"It was like 21/2, three months after my surgery, and I couldn't see out of my right eye," he said. "And I thought I wasn't playing this year. Like, 'I'm done.' "
Ruggiano, 26, had tried to have lasik surgery, but doctors told him he didn't qualify because his corneas are too thin. So he had a procedure called photorefractive keratectomy, or PRK, a common eye surgery before lasik came along.
Both are laser surgeries. With lasik, patients typically have less discomfort and get their vision back quickly. With PRK, improvement comes gradually.
Sometimes, as Ruggiano found out, it takes a few months.
At the beginning, the Austin, Texas, native wouldn't even drive at night as a precaution.
"It did affect his daily life for a little while," Shelly said.
Ruggiano would do a test each day, putting a hand over his left eye and checking the right. He used eye drops, but that lengthened the recovery time. Interestingly, Ruggiano said his left eye was worse than his right before the process began.
"I thought maybe I could use contacts," Ruggiano said. "But I've never gotten used to them."
Ruggiano had several checkups with doctors, who said he would soon be 20/20. But the biggest breakthrough, Shelly said, didn't come until just more than a month ago, when the couple was at church in Rockwall, Texas.
"It's a big church, and we're sitting in the back row," Shelly said. "And he could see the screen (in front) perfectly."
The stressful situation behind him, Ruggiano can now set his sights on making this a season during which he can "establish myself and be consistent on both levels."
Ruggiano started 14 games for the Rays last season, bouncing between the big leagues and Triple A four times. For Durham, he hit .315 with 11 home runs and 51 RBIs in 66 games.
Though he had several notable defensive plays — including a leaping catch into the leftfield wall against Toronto on Aug. 27 — he hit .197 in 45 games in the majors.
"Last year I was consistent at the Triple-A level. But with lack of playing time, I didn't really establish myself at the big-league level," Ruggiano said. "This is a year for me to establish myself and hopefully stick."
Ruggiano should pass his first test today. The players take their annual eye exams.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org