MLB Team use Vizual Edge for Player Development
Weight Training For Eyes
Baseball America (10/4/2010)
Weight Training For Eyes
"I think we finally found what you're looking for." Greg Riddoch received a call from his assistant. It was 1999 and Riddoch, then the Brewers' farm director, was searching for new ways to develop the organization's prospects. If players could improve their vision, Riddoch thought, the arc of their careers would fundamentally change.
So when his assistant met Dr. Barry Seiller,a Chicago-based ophthalmologist and founder of the Visual Fitness Institute, a meeting was arranged instantly. During the meeting, Seiller introduced Riddoch to Vizual Edge, his 3-D computer program designed to improve the efficiency and accuracy of players' eye movements.
The program puts players through a gauntlet of video-game-like drills that stimulate the coordination between the eyes and brain, focusing on aspects like reaction times and the ability to track a ball. In one of the games, players are asked to follow a series of arrows pointing in different directions and appearing spontaneously in different areas on the screen, like Whack-A-Mole for the eyes.
The program can be accessed on the company's website from any computer and costs about $5 per session, though pricing varies based on the size of the package. Using Vizual Edge twice a week, Seiller estimates hitters will start to recognize the spin on balls out of a pitcher's hand within 8-12 weeks.
Riddocn believed Seiller, and the Brewers have trained minor league prospects with the program for the past 10 years .
"The Vizual Edge program is just like a radar gun, just like a psychological background exam, just like any other tool," Riddoch said. "It is·a tool that will help you get to the next level. I may have 15 more (valuable) prospects than other teams because we're using the program."
Players training with Vizual Edge take an initial evaluation and receive scores telling them where their eyes need to imptove. If a hitter has trouble tracking, for example, he will focus on the drills that will improve that area .
And players need to push themselves with the ptogram the same way they do with a bench press, Seiller said. He describes the computer games as "weight training for the eyes."
"That's probably one of the best descriptions," said Josh Champney, director of performance enhancement at the Diamond Sports Training complex in Sterling, Va., where he has used the program for three years. "You actually feel like your eyes are more than little balls in your head. Vision isn't just turning your head and seeing something."
Seiller, however, believes the concept o f sharpening your eyes is still underground. He said those using Vizual Edge are the rare forward-thinkers who understand you can train your brain to react.
Riddoch's coworkers were among that gtoUp, as the Brewers were receptive to his suggestion of adding the program.
"We went in blind, not knowing what it would be," Brewers director of baseball operations Tom Flanagan said. "We obviously knew how important vision was, and we knew how big it would be ifwe could improve vision. At the least, we knew this wouldn't hurt."
And since the Brewers implemented Vizual Edge, five other MLB organizations have bought the program, including the Padres, who Riddoch now works for as manager of short-season Eugene. In addition to using the program for prospect development, Brewers scouts have given high school and college players 15-minute Vizual Edge evaluations. Flanagan said highly touted prospects almost always have good vision, so the short tests don't influence who the team selects.
But once they draft a player, the Brewers already have information ·on his eyes, which gives the organization an early start to developing him. If a draft pick can't track a ball faster than 90 mph, for example, that will be the area he focuses on with Vizual Edge as soon as he signs a contract.
Flanagan said the team's success in developing hitters like Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder has made other clubs curious about Vizual Edge, and Riddoch notes the Royals and Mariners both added the program when members of the Brewers front office joined those organizations.
In the weeks leading to the draft, Seiller said scouts call his assistant regularly asking for advice. After giving a potential draft pick an evaluation, scouts want to know if his problems are too serious to be corrected.
But Vizual Edge is mostly used for development, not scouting. It won't radically change a player, but Riddochbelieves using the program can develop a core of major league role players, the type of supporting cast vital for a playoff push.
"No one ever pays attention to the eyes," he said. "They just do physical drills. I would rather have my kids work on something simple, something fundamental that can make average athletes major league contributors." After struggling to a .196 average in 2007,
Russell Branyan started "religiously" training with Vizual Edge. He learned about the program when he met one of Seiller's employees in the late 1990s, around the time Seiller convinced Riddoch to buy the program.
But he wasn't ready to invest in it then. After hitting south of the Mendoza Line for the first time in his career, however, Branyan added Vizual Edge to his offseason routine.
Upon taking the evaluation, Branyan learnedhis eyes were ·not converging properly, meaning his eyes were not working together properly when the ball approached.
"As a pitch was coming to me, I didn't really know where it was," said Branyan, now with the Mariners. "I would see the pitch and track it, but in reality it would be two, three inches closer to me.
He said he only trains for 5-10 minutes with each session, but he noticed a difference at the plate after about two weeks. And in the three seasons since bottoming out, Branyan has batted a cumulative .245/.337/.515 with 68 home runs in 275 games.
Seiller said Vizual Edge, when combined with all the typical baseball workouts, is designed to be a simple way for players to improve. Stars are going to be stars, with or without the program. But it does help, and there are worse ways to spend time off the field, anyway.
"It's like video games on the computer," Branyan said. "It's actually fun."
Fun enough to raise your batting average 50 points.