Hitting a baseball has been called the single most difficult skill in sport. See the ball. Hit the ball. Sounds easy and simple. It is anything but. Vision training programs to improve batting performance have been largely more hype than helpful.

Researchers at UC Riverside have developed a vision training program that may actually improve hitting performance. Vision and hitting, what do you know, T or F?

1. A 95 mph pitch travels to home plate in 0.4 seconds. 2. Batters must identify pitches within 12 feet of the mound. 3. Swings must start when the ball is about 10 feet from home plate.

You can't hit what you can't see. The eyes. The hands. The swing. The follow-through. Hit? Swing and a miss? It all starts with the eyes. A 95 mph pitch will arrive in about four-tenths of a second. The swing must start when the ball is about 25-30 feet from home plate because within 250 thousandths of a second the ball will arrive. There is no sport where vision is so key to success as baseball.

A very interesting study offers some hope that vision training can improve hitting performance. During last baseball season, researchers at UC-Riverside had 19 of their players participate in a vision-training video game consisting of thirty 25-minute sessions over a two-month period. Eighteen players did not participate and served as the control group. The entire study was completed prior to the 2013 season.

Aaron Seitz, PhD, UCR psychologist, led the research team and has stated that he wanted to apply his research for, “real world benefits.” Those who played the video game had a 4.4 percent reduction in strikeouts compared with the control group. Seven players with 20/20 vision before the training improved to 20/7.5. This means that a player can see at 20 feet what an average human can see at 7.5 feet. Sort of like The Bionic Man. Coach Doug Smith reports that his players were better able to judge the strike zone and make smarter decisions at the plate. This can mean the difference between passing on a slider away and swinging and missing.

The video-gamers scored 41 more runs than teammates in the control group, showed a 31 percent improvement in visual sharpness and were more sensitive to light contrasts. Basically they could pick up the ball more accurately. That can translate into more runs and more wins. The data indicate that the video game may have accounted for an additional 4-5 wins. In a 50-game season that is huge. During the 2013 season UCR was 14-32, so maybe this year the entire team will be assigned the vision training video.

One can think of the eyes as brain tissue with lenses. We “see” when the brain interprets information sent from the eyes. Dr. Seitz and his team believe that the improvements in vision and on-field performance were due to the design of the research, which focused on making the brain more efficient in processing information from the eyes. There is hope that this research may have benefits for those in the general community with low-vision.

It will be interesting to see the data from this 2014 baseball season. If their continued research yields similar results, look for the baseball world to beat a path to Riverside, Calif. And look for Dr. Seitz to become a household name in the baseball community.

Answers: 1. T; 2. T; 3. F.

Dr. Lori Boyajian-O’Neill can be contacted at lori.boyajian-oneill@hcahealthcare.com.