Jan 21, 2008 — It sounds like a joke.

A Major League Baseball pitcher is in a doctor's office for laser eye surgery.

He has 20-200 vision in his left eye.

The doctor: “You must be relieved to never have to wear glasses or contact lenses again.”

The pitcher: “You don't understand, I didn't wear a thing.”

The stunned doctor: “Boy, you were fooling some people.”

It only sounds like a joke.

Somehow, York County's Mark Hendrickson has pitched in the majors the past five seasons with terrible vision in one eye and only mediocre vision in the other.

Apparently, the kid who spent summers and holidays around family in York County always had eye problems. He fought wearing glasses and contacts growing up and simply adjusted without them.

Who could fault the results?

He could see well enough to become a star basketball player at Washington State and play parts of four seasons in the NBA.

He also was a dominating pitcher and hitter for York Township in the Susquehanna League before signing with the Toronto Blue Jays and getting called up in 2002.

He hit the first home run by a pitcher in Jays' history. The 6-foot-9 left-hander went on to become a solid starting pitcher with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Then he pitched well in relief for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2006 playoffs.

But his eyes were getting worse.

The deciding moments came last summer when he couldn't see the ball clearly while hitting. He was 1-for-27 at the plate with 10 strikeouts.

“I'm not saying I'm a .300 hitter . . . but I was embarrassing myself.”

Who's to say how his eye problems affected his pitching? He struggled last season but still showed flashes.

No matter, he had laser eye surgery a couple of weeks ago. He signed with a new team, the Florida Marlins, last week.

And he feels like he has a new lease on his baseball life.

“It just got to the point where I'm going into my free agent year, and I'm pulling out all the stops. I don't want to ever look back and say, 'I could have done this, I could have done that.'”

He's doing whatever he can while spending the winter in York with his girlfriend. He throws regularly on an indoor field in Lancaster and is working out with a personal trainer.

He's also wiser, having learned from two rocky seasons with the Dodgers.

“Every situation a pitcher could be put in I was put in,” Hendrickson said. “Going through it and remaining healthy taught me a lot as far as being able to deal with different situations.”

And now he has a new team that has promised him a spot in the starting rotation.

He also has new eyes, in a way.

His vision is now 20-15 - better than most. He couldn't believe streetlights and neon signs were always this bright.

He couldn't believe, at 33, he finally has his best chance for success.

That's why the season can't come soon enough.

“This is helping me see a whole new world.”

Frank Bodani is a sportswriter for the Daily Record/Sunday News. Reach him at 771-2104 or fbodani@ydr.com.