by Brian P. Dunleavy

Photographed by NEDJELJKO MATURA

Baseball's superstars--sluggers such as Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, for example--use batting practice to refine their hitting mechanics. If Barry Seiller, MD, has his way, however, players throughout Major League Baseball will soon be working on their visual mechanics as well.

As the owner of the Visual Fitness Institute in Vernon Hills, Ill., Dr. Seiller has worked with dozens of high school, college, Olympic and professional athletes on enhancing and/or maximizing the visual skills required for their individual sports. He is now in the process of initiating similar programs with several Major League Baseball teams.

Studies have shown that an athlete's performance can be affected by problems with visual abilities such as depth perception, focusing, eye-hand coordination, visual attention and peripheral vision. Dr. Seiller puts his client athletes through a rigorous eye and visual skills exam that measures not only their visual acuity, but also their eye-hand coordination, depth perception and reaction time. Depending on their results, he may prescribe spectacles, contact lenses or laser surgery to address any visual needs as well as specific therapies designed to strengthen their "sports visual habits."

Two years ago, Dr. Seiller took his technology and techniques to the campus of Georgia Tech (see 20/20, "Computer Games," Technology, April 1998), where he worked with the intercollegiate athletes at the Atlanta school in a specially designed facility. He is already working with the Cleveland Indians on installing a scaled-down version of the facility at their Jacobs Field ballpark.

"For years I had heard sports vision was a gimmick," notes Indians strength and conditioning coach Fernando Montes, who is also president of the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society. "But the technology involved today is so impressive. And you can't argue with the results. We see visual fitness as a component of sports performance enhancement for our players."

According to Montes, the Indians have tested the visual fitness of more than 120 players in their minor league system. Two players they believe will be on the major league roster during the 2001 season were tested last fall during a trial program and were sent home with training exercises to work on during the offseason.

"They've reported a lot of improvement," says Montes. "They are seeing the ball better and they are more focused at the plate and in the field. In our sport, that's what it's all about.




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