Players focus on the importance of vision

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Players focus on the importance of vision


What is the most important physical attribute of a batter? Many would say it is eyesight, the sense that can make or break a batter’s career.

Dynamic visual acuity, or clarity of vision, is more important for players than static vision as they have to perceive, recognize and then react instantaneously to an extremely fast-moving object. This means players with enhanced dynamic visual acuity have a major advantage.

Many retired players say that their deteriorating vision as they age is the reason behind their departure from the game. Some Major League teams even hire ophthalmologists to look after their players’ vision. The reason behind all the importance of good vision is obvious; batting starts from seeing.

Robert K. Adair, the Sterling Professor Emeritus of physics at Yale University, said a fastball thrown by a pitcher reaches home plate in about 0.4 seconds, which means a batter literally has to identify the location of the ball and process it in his brain faster than the blink of an eye.

It takes about 0.15 seconds for a person’s muscles to react according to what he sees, which means 0.4 seconds is just enough time for a batter to react. In that split second, a batter has to distinguish the type of the pitch and its travelling course and decide whether to swing or not. This is why dynamic visual acuity of a batter is such an important factor.

Many legendary batters were known for their superior dynamic visual acuity, including Samsung Lions’ slugger Lee Seung-yuop, arguably one of the best batters in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) at the moment.

Ryu Joong-il, the current manager of the Lions, remembers being impressed by Lee’s vision during his physical examination in 1997. “The physical contained various tests including muscular strength and recovery time after running,” said Ryu. “It also included a dynamic visual acuity test. We had to see and spot nine numbers that flash by and recognize them in order. I could only see about three of them but Lee could see most of them accurately.”

At the time, Lee was only in his early 20’s while Ryu was a veteran getting ready to retire. But as Lee’s career continued, his superior vision would come to be recognized and praised over the next couple of decades. According to the data from Samsung Training Center, Lee observed six numbers out of nine in 0.1 seconds during the physical, twice as many as ordinary people and top class even among baseball players.

Yang Joon-hyuk, the retired Lions outfielder who’s had 20/10 vision, was also recognized for his ability to see the pitch in that instantaneous moment. “I could even see the KBO emblem stamped on the ball,” joked Yang while he was still an active player.

Some might wonder how baseball players maintain such superior vision despite all the external factors such as aging.

Players can consume all the supplements they like but it won’t stop the natural aging process. Some famed batters in the Japanese league such as Sadaharu Oh are known to have decided on their retirement only because of their age and the impact on their bodies and eyesight.

With dynamic visual acuity impairing, not only does a batter lose his ability to make contact with the ball, but it also harms his performance in fielding where the players can’t take their eyes off the ball to catch flying balls. Some players boast extraordinary peripheral vision, being able to see not just the ball in the air but also the wide range of space around the field. But as they age, such ability slowly loses its effectiveness.

Players try different methods to keep their eyes “young.” Some veterans go as far as avoid camera flashes during interviews as the photogene caused by flashes could debilitate their vision during games.

Ichiro Suzuki, the 10-time MLB all-star who now plays for the Miami Marlins, is famous for his efforts to improve his dynamic visual acuity. The anecdote about Suzuki looking at the license plate of the cars passing by and adding up the numbers is one of the stories that show Suzuki’s struggle to maintain his vision. Even so, Suzuki himself has admitted that amblyopia, or lazy eye, caused by aging is affecting his ability to hit balls.

One of the measures Suzuki chose to remedy the condition was to look at tennis balls shooting out of a batting machine. The point of the training was not to hit the balls but to see the balls and read the number marked on the ball. This training technique was widely used by many illustrious batters, such as Edgar Martinez of the Seattle Mariners. Korean slugger Choo Shin-soo of the Texas Rangers is also a fan of this technique.

Some teams take the care of their players’ vision to the next level with more sophisticated measures. For instance, the Doosan Bears used training gear called “Supreme Vision” during its spring camp. When a player pushed the start button, 10 numbers from one to 10 appeared on the screen arranged randomly. The player then had to press the numbers on the screen in numerical order. The more successful the player is, the faster the numbers appear and go, increasing the level of difficulty.

The Hanwha Eagles employed professionals for their players’ vision, conducting “sports vision screening” twice last year before and during the season. The purpose of the inspection was to measure and analyze the visual functions a player uses at bat to eventually increase his overall vision and ability to make an instantaneous judgment.

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