Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Steroids? No, contact lenses!

I was innocently flipping through The Sporting News, waiting for the bus, when this picture jumped out at me:

Thomas Witte/ The Sporting News

A scene from some new werewolf flick? Nope. Bill Bixby about to turn into the Incredible Hulk? Nice try. No, those freakily orange peepers belong to Brian Roberts, second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, who's been knocking the crap out of the ball in this month-old baseball season. (Before this year, Roberts had never hit more than five home runs in a full season. He already has eight in 25 games.)

Should Roberts's eyewear get the credit for his sudden Babe Ruth-like success? He's been wearing new contact lenses, created by Nike and Bausch & Lomb, designed to help a player see the spinning seams on a baseball and protect his eyes from the sun. (It's not all in the lenses; they're not as useful at night, when Roberts plays most of his games.)

These things could soon become all the rage in sports. Several other baseball players are currently testing out or being fitted for the lenses. And they're popping up in other sports, such as tennis and golf. Golfers will actually get a gray-green set of lenses, which should help them to distinguish the shades of green on a particular course.

I think equipment and technology are the "secret sauce" of sports, and don't always receive the attention they should. It's one reason I think it's difficult to compare athletes from different eras. Everyone has better equipment than their predecessors, whether it's in baseball, football, golf, or track & field.

But these lenses - which will be available under the name MaxSight - could eventually have a practical, everyday use too. Would you give up your sunglasses, and the cool they convey, for contacts that sit directly on your pupils and protect your eyes from sunlight even more?