I wish you all could have been with us last night. Well, not to watch the 13-2 drubbing of the Phading Phillies at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays (unless you’re a BJ fan of course) — but to have been part of the conversation that Dr. Mike Gallaway and I had with this year’s best success story in major league baseball, and in optometric vision therapy.
Tommy Joseph is still a young man, though at nearly age 25 his calendar is advancing rapidly by baseball standards. He was the centerpiece of a deal in the summer of 2012 that saw the very popular Hunter (“Game’s Over Let’s Go Eat”) Pence traded from the Phillies to the San Francisco Giants. I still have my Pence-Sylvania T-shirt hanging in the closet, and Pence Ts can still be spotted on the backs of Holiday Inn tailgaters prior to the game.
As if that hadn’t raised the bar of expectation high enough, Tommy was now the heir apparent to the Phillies iconic catcher, Carlos (“Chooooch”) Ruiz. That was until a series of serial concussions made it apparent last year that Tommy could no longer function as a catcher and it appeared at the time that his baseball career might be over.
It was 1981 when Maria Gorbea, a young optometry student from Puerto Rico approached me about a family friend who was desperate to keep his aspirations of being a major league baseball player alive. His name was Frankie Thon, and he was a can’t miss prospect in the California Angels system until he suffered a blow-out fracture of the orbit. (Ironically his brother Dickie Thon, who played several years for the Phillies, would enjoy a successful major league career until he too suffered a blow-out fracture several years later that would ultimately end his career.) Frankie came to The Eye Institute at PCO and spent a week with us. After evaluating him in the clinic we took him to batting cages and played ball on the field with him – me, my interns, and our dedicated resident – Dr. Michael Gallaway.
The student has long eclipsed the master, and Mike’s work with Tommy Joseph was the culmination of many things he learned along the way. Tommy had been switched from catching to first base, a more sedentary position less prone to concussion and the cognitive wear-and-tear of each pitch, at the time the Phillies sent him to Marlton, NJ twice weekly for seven weeks last year to work with Dr. Gallaway and his head vision therapist, Debbie Killion, COVT. Tommy showed up to Spring Training in Clearwater, Florida this year and was the talk of the town – mashing the ball all over the back lots. His torrid hitting continued in Allentown, and when I got word that the Phillies were calling him up, I called up Mike to tell him that Miriam and I would meet him for a Phillies game to celebrate Tommy’s ascension.
Mike texted Tommy, who was gracious enough to chat with us prior to last night’s game. He recounted how vision therapy was integral to recapturing his skills, and how he continues to work on the principles that Dr. Gallaway and Debbie instilled. It was a reunion that was a joy to behold.