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Cardinal outfielder, Juan Encarnacion's career threatened by foul ball injury


Migrant Redbird

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Cardinals outfielder Juan Encarnacion's career is in jeopardy because of a severe, season-ending eye injury suffered when a foul ball struck him Friday night at Busch Stadium.

Encarnacion has multiple fractures in his eye socket and a "serious" injury to his left eye, the team announced Saturday. The extent of the damage to his left eye will not be known for at least several days as the swelling calms. One team source acknowledged that Encarnacion's sight in the left eye is threatened and said the outlook "for the return of his vision is extremely guarded at this point."

The Cardinals right fielder remained in the hospital Saturday and was visited by several teammates including Albert Pujols and Aaron Miles. Pujols was with Encarnacion after the game Friday and until 3 a.m. Saturday. Pujols said his teammate was "in good spirits, as good as possible."

"Just pray for him," Pujols said. "It's tough. It's something you don't want to happen to anybody. It's just the toughest situation, and all you want is for him to be better."

Said Miles: "We're all pulling for him. Hoping for the best. We hope he'll be able to see and hopefully play ball again."

Encarnacion was on the on-deck circle, preparing to pinch hit, when Miles lashed at an outside pitch and fouled a line drive that hit Encarnacion flush in the left eye. Encarnacion collapsed and was quickly surrounded by trainers and teammates. Though Encarnacion left the field under his own power, several teammates described him as dazed when taken to a hospital.

A team official said Encarnacion's orbital bone "exploded" and that there was significant harm to the eye itself. The concern is that Encarnacion's optic nerve was damaged by the trauma.

Eye specialists saw Encarnacion on Saturday, though it could be several days and even a week before he has surgery to repair the fractures. It also could take that long for swelling and bruising to withdraw and reveal the true scope of the injury. His right eye is unharmed.

.... Encarnacion, 31, was hit by a pitch in September 1999 and had a small plate inserted to repair a fracture in the same area as this injury. He played 141 games the next season.

He is in the second year of a three-year contract. He missed the first 1½ months of this season rehabbing from wrist surgery but was able to elevate his numbers to his career standards. He hit .356 with 19 RBIs in July, and he finishes the season with a .283 average, nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 78 games.

Miles said he saw a few replays of his foul ball and each time "it was just as frightening." [Miles] spoke with Encarnacion at the hospital and the question the outfielder asked him was if he got a hit after Encarnacion left the field.

Miles told him about the rally that happened that inning and how the game was won four batters after Encarnacion was felled. But he also told him that he did not get a hit.

"No, I struck out," Miles said. "He got kind of mad at that. … He just told me to go get them tonight. He gave me the thumbs up."

I've reassessed my opinion of Juan Encarnacion following the injury. He has not been a popular player in St. Louis. I criticized Walt Jocketty harshly 2 years ago for signing a "mediocre corner outfielder" to a multi-year contract (3 years, $15M). Fans at the Birds on the Bat forum christened him "Juantino" (a play on the "cancer in the clubhouse", Tino Martinez, whom St. Louis paid $7M to Tampa Bay to take him off their hands the last year of a 3 year contract. He also was labeled the LOBster, for all the runners he stranded his first few months in a Cardinals uniform. Albert Pujols made a very unusual gesture a few months into the 2006 season when he appealed to Cardinals fans to stop booing Encarnacion and insisted that Juan was playing all out.

Juan was perceived by many Cards fans to be lackadaisical in the outfield and on the base paths. In many ways, he's a "5 tool" player, except that he sometimes seemed to leave the tools in the drawer, getting late breaks on fly balls and not always taking the quickest line to the ball. A few weeks ago this season, he was criticized for getting thrown out by going into 2nd base standing up on a failed hit-and-run, when a slide might have netted him a straight steal; Juan's explanation was that he thought the ball was fouled off. On a subsequent play in the same game, he was out at the plate and seemed not to have made much effort to elude the catcher's tag.

I was puzzled a year ago when Pujols took the extremely unusual step to ask fans not to boo Encarnacion, and now I see that Albert stayed at the hospital until 3 AM after the injury. I knew that they were friends, but now I'm suspecting that Juan might have had some undisclosed handicap which affected his concentration at times, something which his friends knew about but which he didn't want to be publicly known. We have another poster at BOTB who has been a strong defender of Juan and who recently revealed that he had a personal connection with him (which he wouldn't specify). That's a lot of speculation, of course, and I could be totally wrong.

Regardless, it was a tragic injury. Supposedly, Encarnacion was concentrating on the pitcher's delivery, which might have prevented him from recognizing the direction of that line drive foul ball in time to dodge it.

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Thanks for an informative post Migrant Redbird.

Sometimes, people have to die before they get their due. Thank God, Encarnacion is a young man with plenty of life still ahead of him.

Whether he ever returns to the field or not, I hope his vision recovers to the point where he can see the earth in all it's beauty.

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I've always liked Juan, since his Tiger days. This is really tragic. Reminds me of what happened to Mike Coolbaugh. But thankfully Juan is still alive. I haven't really been following the Cards, so I don't know about his lack of effort and what not. I went to Viva El Birdos to see if I could find some opinions about Juan. They were all saying that they weren't pleased with his play, but wanted him to get better. I even think I might've read that Albert didn't want the fans to boo Juan. I hope Juan regains vision, even if his career is over. Good luck, man. We're rooting for you. :)

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