How Lasik Steadied Two Mets Behind the Plate

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — A Noah Syndergaard fastball was flying toward Tomas Nido when he realized he needed a new fix for his eyesight.

It was last April, Nido recalled recently, and Syndergaard, whose fastball can reach 101 miles per hour, was on the mound with Nido behind the plate during a home game against Milwaukee.

Nido, who was in his eighth game as a major leaguer, readied to receive the pitch, but just as Syndergaard released the ball, the contact in Nido’s left eye was blown out by an uncommonly strong wind. Nido did not know where the ball was as it spun toward him.

“Luckily, the batter fouled it off,” he said.

That moment eventually led Nido, 24, to have Lasik surgery. He had grown increasingly wary of his contact lenses: They served him well in Florida, from Orangewood Christian High School to Class A ball in Florida, but when he took his gear north to Class AA Binghamton and then Queens with the Mets, his vision blurred in the colder weather.

At bat and when down in a crouch, cold wind often knocked his lenses loose. Finally, frustrated with his inability to track the ball as a batter against a familiar pitcher during the Puerto Rico winter league in January, Nido asked himself: Is it me or the contacts?

“Any day, for me, the preparation was, ‘How do I make sure my contacts don’t get blurry?’ ” he said. “I had to put it into my routine. This complicated things.”

Seeking clarity and a regular roster spot, Nido consulted his agent, Mets officials and an ophthalmologist. Nido then had Lasik surgery, an increasingly common procedure that comes with short- and long-term risks and complications, on Jan. 10. It went smoothly, and he returned to the field with the Indios de Mayagüez 48 hours later.

In his first game, he hit a double. When he strode into second base, an infielder asked Nido where he had been the last two days.

“I was like, ‘Oh, I was getting Lasik surgery,’ ” Nido said.

The infielder was impressed. He had received the same operation, and it had taken him a week to recover.

Nido, who saw the pitcher’s release point and the ball’s rotation more clearly, noted that there were side effects off the field, as well. He saw glare and halos around any lights. He called the feeling “insane.” In the weeks afterward, he did not drive at night because his eyes could not focus. The glare has been reduced over the last two months.

“They told me, ‘Don’t get scared, but it kind of fluctuates,’ and it does,” said Nido, who saw a positive spike in his batting average in Puerto Rico after the surgery. “It’s the eye getting used to the new way.”

After hitting .167 in 84 at bats with the Mets last season, Nido welcomed anything that could give him the split-second improvement that could help him stick in the majors. On a roster packed with capable catchers, that could be a tricky goal. Nido was called up last April when the starter, Travis d’Arnaud, injured himself two weeks into the season, but was sent down to Class AAA when the Mets traded for the former All-Star Devin Mesoraco.

Now Nido isn’t even the only catcher on the roster with surgically corrected eyes. Three weeks before he decided to have the operation, the Mets signed Wilson Ramos, a two-time All-Star who had the same Lasik procedure during spring training in 2016 when he was with Washington. It took Ramos a year to come around to the procedure, because he was scared about possible vision loss when a doctor first recommended it.

He opted for contact lenses instead, and to combat the wind drying out his lenses and irritating him, Ramos applied drops between innings, especially on days when the wind was blowing hard.

The next year, the eye doctor repeated his recommendation. Ramos, then 28, relented. The operation took 40 seconds — 20 seconds on each eye. That season, Ramos batted .307, 78 points better than the previous year, and made his first All-Star Game.

“Not hard surgery,” said Ramos, who has twice had operations to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. “That was quick and easy. Afterward, a couple of drops, go to hotel, take a few pills, sleep for three hours, see difference when you wake up and turn on television.”

Nido noted that there were a number of challenges in catching a major league pitcher when the wind was howling. In the game in which his contact popped out while catching Syndergaard last April, a gust blew into the field. Syndergaard’s pitch moved wildly to the right. It became a GIF image and went viral.

“Honestly, I really didn’t see the ball,” Nido said. “The wind was insane and when he threw the ball, it just ran. It was like a tornado sinker. He doesn’t even know that. I don’t like to tell people because I want him to be as confident as he can be on the mound.”

Nido used to wake up and reach for his glasses each day. He no longer needs to wear them, but out of habit put them on recently.

“Oh, wow, I was blind,” he said.