The biggest proponent of vision training on the Nationals is, oddly enough, a player with naturally perfect vision. Lombardozzi first started practicing vision exercises in high school because his father, a former major league second baseman, did a version of the training when he played.
Lombardozzi, who lives near Columbia in the offseason, has trained with Smithson at his Arlington office for the past two winters, visiting two to three times per week. As part of his routine, Lombardozzi has to touch one of the 32 red buttons that light up across an electronic reaction board that hangs from the wall. His best score is a 4,900 — far above the score of 2,500 that Smithson establishes as a baseline for players.
For warmups, Smithson tosses Lombardozzi a ring with four large colored balls attached to it — a favorite exercise of former slugger Manny Ramirez. Smithson calls out “red,” “blue,” “yellow” or “white,” and Lombardozzi has to catch the ring on the corresponding ball as it spins through the air.
Every time before he enters a game, whether as a starter or pinch hitter, Lombardozzi tracks smaller baseballs in the batting cages without swinging while wearing strobe glasses. Like a flashing strobe light, the glasses block out what a player sees at different speeds and rob the brain of images.
“You take those off and it makes it seem like the guy throwing is moving slower,” Lombardozzi said. “You’re slowing the ball down and you’re just taking that feeling into the game.”
Harper, who says his eyesight would be “terrible” without contact lenses, started using the strobe glasses when he was in Class A Hagerstown in 2011 after consulting with Smithson. He would wear the glasses while hitting soft toss.
“Everything that I’ve worked on with him is huge,” he said. “Seeing things really quick.”
Since college, Danny Espinosa has been using cards that contain two images and force him to make them one, a focus exercise for his eyes. The cards were developed by Bill Harrison, a renowned Southern California-based sports optometrist who famously worked with George Brett, Frank White, Jason Giambi and others.
“Sometimes I feel like I see the ball extremely well after I do my stuff,” said Espinosa, who is also going to try a computer program this season recommended by Smithson.
It’s not for everyone
Not all teams flocked to adopt vision training. The Milwaukee Brewers, for example, once employed a vision-training computer program but stopped two years ago when it became too labor intensive to keep up. Plus, the program’s company couldn’t provide proof that players’ performances had improved, according to the team’s director of player development, Reid Nichols.