Just imagine … you’ve scored tickets for Opening Day, your favorite major league baseball player is positioned in the batter’s box, it’s the ninth inning, and relief pitcher Cincinnati Reds ace Arnoldis Chapman launches a 95 mph fastball that passes the plate in four-tenths of a second. What does the batter see? He typically sees much more than the average baseball fan.According to Key Whitman Eye Center’s Amanda Hoelscher, O.D., “Eighty-one percent of major league baseball players have visual acuity of 20/15 or better. So they can resolve the image of that pitch much better than most of the population. Professional baseball players also have better reaction time, because they practice and train at a high level of intensity.”
More pitchers are consistently throwing at a higher rate of speed, too, so batters need to work hard to keep up. ESPN broached the subject of pitching velocity last year, noting “A decade ago, just 37 pitchers threw 25 percent of their fastballs 95 mph or faster; last season, 149 guys lived in the 95-99 zone. Says Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, ‘It’s unusual now to face guys who don’t throw in the mid-90s on a consistent basis.’”
Dr. Hoelscher describes what baseball players might experience when they see a 95 mph fastball with irritated eyes.
Most sports fans will agree; being able to hit a fastball like Texas Ranger Adrian Beltre or Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera is one of the biggest challenges in sports. Quality of vision plays a key role in any sport that requires eye-hand coordination, and professional athletes will reach for any tools they can find to improve eye-hand skills and overall vision.
“Sports vision and vision training is an evolving market. Most of the major league baseball teams employ some sort of sports vision training for their players to improve eye-hand coordination and to be able to hit those fastballs more frequently,” Dr. Hoelscher says.
Dr. Hoelscher treats many elite and professional athletes who are trying to achieve the best visual acuity possible. “Not everyone has the ability to achieve the visual acuity needed to see and hit a 95 mph fastball on a regular basis. Maybe the best you can see with vision correction is 20/25, whereas someone else could get to 20/10 visual acuity. It depends on the person.
The theory is the best visual acuity anyone can achieve is 20/8. In some instances we can help athletes improve their vision beyond 20/20. I have patients in low prescription contact lenses who have improved vision to 20/10, but that isn’t always the case,” explains Dr. Hoelscher.
Along with vision training and low prescription lenses, there are a number of other healthy vision options athletes of any skill level can consider for improving their game. For example, people who wear eyeglasses might consider contact lenses. Contact lenses provide a wider field of vision and more accurate image size as opposed to glasses.
However, some athletes struggle with contact lenses, especially those who suffer from dry eye syndrome, astigmatism and/or allergies. “The big thing is if you have dry eye and are wearing contact lenses for astigmatism, those two factors can affect your quality of vision and your ability to see a ball well. We see a lot of people choosing LASIK over contact lenses and glasses for those two reasons,” Dr. Hoelscher says.
Another reason athletes choose LASIK surgery is to improve contrast sensitivity. According to Dr. Hoelscher, “We’ve made great strides in technology now with topography-driven LASIK, so there is an increased probability of 20/20 or better vision as well as contrast sensitivity with LASIK eye surgery. Contrast sensitivity is crucial on the baseball diamond and for golfers who want to read the greens. Tiger Woods opted for LASIK several years ago.”
Dr. Hoelscher explains what role visual acuity and contrast sensitivity likely played in the career of baseball legend Ted Williams.
In her practice, Dr. Hoelscher also treats plenty of amateur athletes who want to continue playing sports in their later years. Dr. Hoelscher says, “I personally see a lot of tennis players and golfers in their 60s and 70s who notice their vision is changing, and their athletic performance is still a priority for them.
Cataracts can affect the quality of your vision, your visual acuity and certainly affect your athletic performance. So recognizing that you have cataracts and getting cataract surgery to remove them at an appropriate time is important for athletes as they age,” advises Dr. Hoelscher.
If your athletic performance is suffering due to vision challenges, contact your eye care professional. He or she can evaluate your vision during an eye health exam and offer recommendations for improving your eyesight and your game. As Dr. Hoelscher says, “Vision has a huge impact on sports. Any athlete on a professional or amateur level who wants to improve athletic performance should have his or her vision evaluated to help ensure they are reaching their full potential.”