“If you close your eyes, do you know where you’re going?” Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon asked an eager group of youngsters this summer. “I mean, you can smell your way around, but that can only take you so far. You can feel your way around too, but what if you touch something sharp?”
Rendon smiled as kids tried to figure out the importance of their eyesight. Then he flat-out told them.
“We’ve got to take care of our eyes,” he said. “That might be the most important sense that we all have, being able to see.”
Rendon was a special visitor to the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, where VSP network doctor Keith Smithson, OD, partnered with VSP Global Eyes of Hope and Nike Vision to provide no-cost eye care for boys and girls in grades 3-8 from communities in need in Washington, D.C.
Making a difference
“For us, this is an opportunity to get out and make a difference in kids’ lives where they can see better for school, and also see better for sport, and maybe give them that launching pad into success in the future,” said Dr. Smithson, the Director for Visual Performance for the Washington Nationals. “To me, if you can’t see well, you can’t play your sport well, and you don’t gain that confidence that sports really can give.”
Dr. Smithson is a pediatric and sports vision specialist who practices at Northern Virginia Doctors of Optometry, and chair of the American Optometric Association (AOA) Sports and Performance Vision Committee. His goal in helping organize this event was to bridge two things he’s passionate about—eye care and sports—for those in need.
“I’ve been here ever since there’s been a Washington Nationals, so this is a team that I’m very passionate about,” Dr. Smithson said. “Our relationship made this happen with the Youth Academy and it really is a fantastic outreach effort.”
In total, 117 people received access to eye care and glasses, as doctors examined 77 student-athletes and coaches, and VSP Global handed out 40 gift certificates for no-cost comprehensive eye exams and Nike prescription glasses, if needed. Each of the campers also received Nike performance sunglasses to protect their young, developing eyes from sun damage, dust and wind, while still providing crisp, clean vision.
Rendon used his experience as a professional baseball player to explain how important eye care really is, saying he wouldn’t be able to excel on the field—and at bat—without proper vision. Then he explained what a great opportunity this event was.
“I think that you guys have gotta be thankful for the opportunity that you have at this academy,” Rendon said. “To be able to have doctors as great as Dr. Smithson come out here and get your eyes checked annually, get free sunglasses, get free reading glasses … you get the right prescription and you can see the bottom line. Doesn’t your confidence and your ability just go all the way up?”
His message was felt by the student-athletes, who echoed it through their own experiences.
“Baseball is my favorite sport,” said sixth grader Langston. “I play everywhere. I play pitcher, first base, middle infield, and centerfield. It’s very important (to see well), especially seeing out of the corner of your eye. If there’s a runner on third and it’s one out, you’re going to have to check the runner, and make the throw to first.”
Langston struggled before he got the right pair of glasses to help him see on the field.
“I couldn’t see where the ball is,” he said. “I used to be like that before I had glasses; I would just be all over the place. I couldn’t really see when a pitch came and I was late on it. And if it was an outside pitch, I had absolutely no chance to hit it. So I would swing and miss badly. But with my glasses, I was a lot better, and I was making a lot more contact. So now I’m usually No. 1 on my Little League teams. I’m at the top of the lineup because I’m so good with contact, and that’s a lot better because of my glasses.”
Dr. Smithson said that while Rendon discussed the importance of his eyesight, it’s even more important for youth to focus on eye health.
“The one very different thing between Mr. Rendon and you guys is that you guys are still growing and changing,” Dr. Smithson said to student-athletes. “Year after year, your body is going to change. You brain is going to change. The reason we want to see you every year is to make sure you’re always at your best.”