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Why Major League Baseball Players Can Hit 95 Mph Fastballs and You Can’t

Pitcher throwing fastball

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.

Athletes strive for optimum eye-hand coordination and visual acuity

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.

Many athletes opt for LASIK eye surgery when contacts don’t cut it

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.

Athletes have options to optimize vision at most any age

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.

Let your eye doctor coach you to your full vision potential

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.”

Photo Source: iStock for Getty Images

Posted in: Eye Care for Athletes

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