NEW YORK — At the end of his 18th Major League season, 42-year-old designated hitter Nelson Cruz believes there’s more baseball left in his bat.
“I want to keep playing,” Cruz said Wednesday at Citi Field.
Cruz’s season ended differently than he imagined when he signed with the Nationals during spring training in March. He hasn’t played a game since September 13 due to inflammation in his left eye. His offensive numbers plummeted and he didn’t make progress toward his ultimate career goal of winning a World Series.
“Definitely tough,” Cruz said. “Not even close to what we thought we were going to do. But I guess in a tough time, a tough process, you also learn. You get to know real people, because anything can be good when you do good. You get to know people when everything is the other way around. I guess as you get older, you get tougher.
Cruz has been tested this season by a problem in his left eye which he believes has been a problem for almost a year and a half and which worsened in September. The inner corner of this eye is inflamed, limiting clear vision in his right eye. He initially thought he could counter it by adjusting his swing, but eventually decided to schedule surgery for October 31 to remove the extra skin causing difficulty in seeing. He expects to be cleared for baseball activities six to eight weeks later and to return to “100%”.
“It would be nice to start reviewing baseball again,” Cruz said, adding, “Vision is everything for hitters. But the good thing is that it can be fixed.
Between that and a handful of other injuries, Cruz competed in 124 nationals, slashing .234/.313/.337 with a .650 OPS, 10 homers, 16 doubles and 64 RBIs (team high). ) in 507 home plate appearances. . That’s compared to a .265/.334/.497 slash line with a .831 OPS, 32 home runs, 21 doubles and 86 RBIs in 584 plate appearances between the Twins and Rays last season as an All-Star.
“The numbers weren’t what I expected,” Cruz said. “Here, it’s about performing. When you’re playing well, that’s when you get calls from other teams to go play. But I stuck with the positives. I have to improve the things I have to improve, and that’s the beauty of life. I hope I get another chance to go out there and make an impact.
Cruz’s mark on the Nationals this season, however, cannot be quantified in the stats. Just as he did with previous teams, Cruz took on the veteran leadership role – including the one with teammate Juan Soto before the trade deadline – and was proud to set a positive example.
Cruz and the Nationals have a mutual option on his contract worth $16 million for 2023. He has yet to have any discussions with the team about it. Luke Voit finished the season in the designated hitter role after Cruz was sidelined.
“Hopefully I can go to a place where I can achieve the goals that I’m looking for – to win the World Series,” he said, adding: “It would be really special. I’ve been there twice. I hope “, the third time is the last. Just be blessed. I would be complete with my career, the things you want to accomplish. It’s the ultimate.”
As Cruz heads into winter with the uncertainty surrounding next year, he already has a stacked list of offseason plans. Cruz was named general manager of the Dominican Republic team during the World Baseball Classic. He had already considered a combo player role, but he will stick to front office duties.
“I don’t think I made the team,” he said with a smile. “First of all, I have to be honest with myself. It’s not fair to have so many good players there who have done a really good job, and better than me.
Cruz will stay in New York the first day of the offseason to host a baseball clinic through his Boomstick23 foundation. Upon his return to the Dominican Republic, he will work on completing an educational computer facility in his hometown of Las Matas de Santa Cruz. Those who attend will be able to study professions such as plumbing, construction and mechanics and receive government employment upon graduation.
“They’ll get a job right away,” he said. “It will be amazing. That’s huge for my hometown.
Cruz’s efforts will also include continuing Hurricane Ian relief, sending doctors and dentists to local areas for medical appointments, adding a roof to a baseball diamond and completion of the construction of another. A charity event in December will reap the benefits that will be shared between his foundation and that of Pedro Martinez.
Expanding the philanthropic reach of the Boomstick23 Foundation, Cruz will travel to Israel to conduct clinics and teach beteyah, also known as vitilla or stickball.
“He’s amazing, he really is,” manager Dave Martinez said. “You think of him and you think of the guy I grew up idolizing Roberto Clemente – there’s a lot of similarities there, really. He’s been awesome, not just on the baseball field, but off the field “, teaching young players in the clubhouse, teaching them how to act in the clubhouse. He was all of that. I was lucky to have him, and we’ll see where the future lies for him.