Making Contact Through Sports Vision


Keith Smithson is a Doctor of Optometry in Northern Virginia who specializes in Sports Vision. He happens to be the team optometrist for the Washington Nationals, a team that happens to have the consensus number one prospect in the nation according to Baseball America, Bryce Harper.  Dr. Smithson is a member of the Sports Vision Section (SVS) of the American Optometric Association, which is chaired by our visionhelp.com colleague, Dr. Gary Etting.

On April 19, eighteen year-old Bryce Harper sporting a .231 batting average and under-performing for the low-Class A Hagerstown Suns of the South Atlantic League walked into Dr. Smithson’s office for his examination.  As Harper tells it,  Dr. Smithson looked at him with astonishment and said, “I don’t know how you ever hit before. You have some of the worst eyes I’ve ever seen.”  Harper noted that he had tried contact lenses previously, but was unable to wear them comfortably.

The next night, with his new contact lenses in place, Bryce had a double and a single against the visiting Hickory Crawdads. The following night he homered and the night after that he singled, doubled, homered and drove in six runs.  I won’t bore you with the stats, but suffice it to say that since obtaining his contact lenses Harper has gone on a tear and is leading the league in hitting.  It’s a testament to Bryce’s determination to succeed that he was able to get this far with blurred vision.  But each rung of the ladder presents greater challenges, and his visual skill set was no longer a match for the level of competition he was facing.  Enter Dr. Smithson who not only helped Bryce see sharper with contact lenses, but is helping him maximize his visual abilities through optometric vision therapy.

David Shenk is the author of The Genius In All Of Us, a compelling book which he introduces using the story of Ted Williams and his legendary vision.  In the public imagination, Williams was almost a god among men, a “superhuman” endowed with a collection of innate physical gifts.  But all that innate miracle-man stuff was “a lot of bull” according to Williams.  When his eyesight was tested upon entering the Navy in 1942, after he was already tearing up major league pitching, Williams’ acuity was excellent but nothing out of the ordinary.  It was his repeated and dogged practice in honing his eye-hand coordination skills, and insight into pattern recognition of opposing pitchers’ tendencies, that set him apart.

Marlon Anderson is a former big leaguer who broke in with the Phillies and is currently the batting coach for Bryce Harper’s Hagerstown Suns.  He gushed that nobody has seen an 18 year-old who can do some of the things that Bryce has been doing.  Harper in turn gushes that it makes a huge difference now that he is able to see the ball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand.  It is much too early to tell whether Bryce Harper will live up to his billing and approach a career that is anything like the legendary Ted Williams experienced.  As David Shenk notes in The Genius In All of Us, it is dedication to the process that places a ceiling on our achievements.  With the help of his optometrist, Bryce Harper is clearly on the right track.

- Leonard J. Press, O.D., FCOVD, FAAO

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