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Better Vision Means Better Baseball

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Keeping an Eye on the Ball - Orioles coach Joe Hogarty
Keeping an Eye on the Ball - Orioles coach Joe Hogarty
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

What group has an average vision of 20/12? Major League Baseball players! Babe Ruth was thought to have vision of 20/8! His vision was almost as good as an eagle, which is about 20/5.

Static vision is not enough. When this nearly eagle-eyed group hits or fields, what counts more is speed of recognizing and reacting, focusing, and tracking the baseball. Let’s look at these aspects of vision in the context of assessing and improving vision!

Prospect Vision Assessment Is Becoming Standardized

In January 2017, MLB and USA Baseball partnered with RightEye to provide baseball prospects with vision assessments. Rick Riccobono, chief development officer of USA baseball stated, “These are sports areas that can be enhanced through training, and will give athletes important insights about reaching their maximum potential.”

Measures include Dynamic Visual Acuity, Simple Reaction Time, Choice Reaction Time, Discriminate Reaction Time, Eye Dominance(balanced eyes are best), and Cardinal Gaze Position. These measurements are used to generate a report comparing the athlete to norms on:

  • Visual acuity when moving
  • Visual speed, processing, and reaction time in choice and discriminate situations
  • Performance vision including maximum speed of object
  • Motor latency

Low Tech Eye Exercises

Some exercises are low tech and some exercises are high tech. Common sense told me that combining low tech and high tech exercises would provide the most benefit to baseball players. Three examples of low tech exercises are Brock String exercises, Vision Ring exercises, and tennis ball exercises.

I hold a Brock String tautly to my nose. About 10 feet away, the string is attached to a lower point so the string slants downward as it gets farther from me. For the Saccade exercise I place three beads 14 inches, 30 inches, and five feet from my nose, I focus on one bead, then jump my focus to the next bead, and then the next. At the end of the string, I reverse direction. For the smooth pursuit exercise, I remove the beads, I imagine a bug at my nose and focus on it nearly cross eyed, then I slowly move my focus to the far end of the string, then I slowly return focus to my nose.

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A Vision Ring involves a ring that intersects a ball so that the ring and ball are combined into one object. The combined object is thrown and I track the ball with my eyes. It can be thrown to either side of me, above me, or to hit the ground in front of me. The advanced exercise is I catch the ball without touching the ring. Caution is advised to avoid injury!

A tennis ball exercise starts with placing half inch color circles and/or half inch letters on each tennis ball. Then I get in my batting stance, and a machine shoots the tennis balls like a pitcher would. The tennis ball velocity can be between 80 and 155 mph. The first level is I shout what I see on the ball and then hit it. The second level is I hit only one color of ball. The third level is I only hit some specific numbered balls. At least four teams have experimented with a tennis ball exercise – Cubs, Indians, Mariners, and Royals. Supporting the tennis ball exercises is a study done by Dr. Khizer Khaderi on players from the University of Arizona baseball team that showed the most important retinol ganglion cells for hitting are cells that pick up detail and color instead of cells that detect motion.

Pitch Recognition Training

One example of pitch recognition training is SeamTrak. It is a web application that allows me to practice seeing the baseball’s spin as it comes out of the hand of a left handed pitcher or a right handed pitcher. What I see on my computer screen is like what a batter would see. The application tracks my speed and accuracy of pitch recognition.

High Tech Eye Training

One example of high tech eye training is Vizual Edge. If I purchased some sessions, they would send me 3-D glasses. Then I would go on-line to take an assessment. Then I would use their eye training tool. Focus areas include align my eyes, use my eyes for depth perception, coordinate eye movements, hand-eye coordination, visual recognition speed & reaction time, single point focus, and tracking.

Baseball’s New Secret Weapon: High Tech Vision Training said Vizual Edge has been used by ten MLB teams, but it did not “divulge” any of the teams. My best guess is that the ten teams are Royals, Mariners, Astros, Brewers, Cubs, Padres, Nationals, Reds, Indians, and Pirates.

In 2013, Frank Spaniol, Texas A&M, studied 352 minor league players. Those whose scores were in the top quartile had batting averages 15 points higher, strikeout rates 32 points lower, and on-base percentages 51 points better.

RightEye and Vizzario may develop alternatives to Vizual Edge. Vizzario has consulted several professional teams, including the White Sox.

Eye Nutrition

Research suggests that eye vitamins (lutein and zeaxanthin) improve a young-healthy-adult’s performance in two ways.

  • Young-healthy-adults with lutein levels in the bottom third of the test subjects (meaning macular pigment levels are likely insufficient) had lower visual performance than the upper third. Increased lutein intake could increase their visual performance. The proposed mechanism is that macular pigments help their eyes maintain visual acuity in situations of scattered light and bright light.
  • When young-healthy-adults considered to be operating at peak-cognitive-efficiency increased their levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, their visual information processing speed increased. The proposed mechanism is that lutein and zeaxanthin support production of connexin proteins that improve intracellular communication in the brain.

How could players increase their intake of lutein and zeaxanthin? The best way is to eat a lot of vegetables. Green leafy vegetables, maize, and egg yolk have high lutein levels. Orange peppers have high zeaxanthin levels. The alternative is to find a NSF-certified vitamin supplement. NSF International certifies supplements that they guarantee not to contain any banned substances that would violate a sport’s drug policy. I would look for NSF-certified supplements sold by companies that have non-exclusive partnerships with the Major League Baseball Players Association to provide nutritional supplements.

Summary

Vision assessment and development are important parts of player development. Exercises, training tools, and nutrition can improve vision and help players reach their maximum potential. Better vision means better baseball!