- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 5, 2008

Cristian Guzman ought to be the Washington Nationals‘ representative at the All-Star Game, an honor that also would serve as a nice symbol for Nats fans.

The symbolism of it? Anything is possible.

Not so long ago, a reasonable person might have bet that Guzman would be out of baseball by now.

Guzman, after all, batted .219 in 142 games in his first season in Washington - and he had to rally at the end of the season just to do that well. He followed that up by missing the entire 2006 season because of injuries - not what the club hoped to get in return for the four-year, $16 million contract it gave him.

Nationals fans were hoping that Guzman, if he was still in the game, would at least be out of the District by now.

How things change. Those same fans now should hope that Guzman stays next season and the season after, that the team and player agree on a two-year contract extension.

After all, shortstops who bat .315 and lead the league in hits are hard to come by. (That performance appears to be no fluke, either: Guzman batted .328 in 46 games in his injury-shortened 2007 season.)

What is amazing about his transformation is that the reason for it is so simple: Guzman couldn’t see the ball, at least not until he underwent Lasik eye surgery before the 2007 season.

His success since the surgery is well documented. Still, you have to marvel every time you see Guzman drive a ball - and he drives them hard - at the notion that a player could get through seven major league seasons without being able to see the ball.

Guzman delivered some solid years in his first seven seasons in Minnesota, batting .302 in 2001 and hitting .274 in 2004.

But much of Guzman’s success in Minnesota came from bounced shots off the artificial turf, not hard drives down the line.

“A lot of times in Minnesota, he used the turf,” Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said. “We figured he was a .260 hitter out of the Metrodome, because a lot of his hits were bounce and run. We knew that, but he is a much better hitter now than he was in Minnesota.”

Guzman pulled a Mickey Mantle in spring training this year, hitting home runs from both sides of the plate in one game.

“I asked him [last Saturday], ‘Could you imagine what you could have done in Minnesota before if you were able to see the way you can see now?’” manager Manny Acta said. “He just laughed about it. He had a good career there and played well, but you have to wonder: What if? What if he were able to see better? Especially in a dome, which is even tougher. It is day and night, the difference, from both sides of the plate.

“Even when he is not the most patient guy, the difference now is he puts the barrel of the bat on the ball very consistently compared to before. He hits so many balls hard, driving the ball.”

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