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It might not be a noticeable change – not in normal lighting, anyways – but Bryce Harper believes it could make a significant difference for him in 2019.
The Philadelphia Phillies outfielder has started wearing new transition contact lenses in the weeks and months leading up to Opening Day, utilizing technology that adapts to changing light and is designed to minimize the effects of bright light on the eye. The photochromic technology has long been used in transition glasses, which darken when exposed to sunlight, but it’s new to contact lenses.
“It’s a little trippy, where my eyes go from blue to brown when I go outside,” Harper told USA TODAY Sports in a phone interview Wednesday. “But for me, it’s a one-of-a-kind product this offseason, being able to be one of the first (people) to use it – especially as a baseball player where my vision is huge for me.”
Harper spoke to USA TODAY Sports as part of an endorsement deal with the contact lens brand, ACUVUE OASYS with Transitions.
Harper said he’s long needed contact lenses to correct his vision and has worn them since eighth grade, but they’ve given him issues in the past. The Washington Post reported in 2011 that contacts gave Harper headaches in high school, and when he joined the Washington Nationals a few years later, a team optometrist was shocked to discover that the teenage slugger was “blind as a bat.”
“I was absolutely blind,” Harper confirmed Wednesday with a laugh. “(It was) pretty bad.”
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The 26-year-old said he’s been able to find more comfortable lenses in recent years, though he did take a few at-bats in regular glasses during a game last season after struggling to get his contacts in. And when Acuvue approached him during the offseason about a lense that might better help him deal with bright lights, he said he was “kind of hooked” and wanted to give them a try.
“I remember my grandpa wearing the transition lenses, when I was younger. Maybe driving down the street, put his transition glasses on,” Harper said. “But the (contacts), they’re brand new.”
Harper has worn the transition lenses throughout spring training and said he’s already noticed a difference. They adapt suddenly when exposed to light, he said, and are “fully engaged” within 45 seconds or so.
“The sunlight and the lights of the stadium would really interfere with my eyes a little bit and make me squint a little bit harder or not be able to look in the light as long,” Harper explained. “So being able to have a lens that transitions into a darker lens for me has been huge. … (That) split-second of making contact or striking out, or misreading a ball, it can definitely help me in that circumstance, as well.”
Harper was one of the most highly-coveted free agents in baseball this offseason before he decided to sign a 13-year, $330-million contract with the Phillies late last month. Philadelphia will face the Atlanta Braves on Opening Day on Thursday before starting a two-game series with Harper’s former team, the Nationals, on Tuesday.
The 2015 National League MVP said it will be strange walking into the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park, and strange to step into the batter’s box against former teammate Max Scherzer, a two-time Cy Young Award winner. (“Nobody really looks forward to facing a Cy Young,” Harper said.)
Though Harper isn’t sure what kind of reception he’ll get before his first at-bat in Washington as a division rival, he’s excited for it nonetheless.
“I’m probably going to get some cheers. I’m going to hear some boos, I would think,” Harper said. “(But) I’m looking forward to going back and being a part of that.”
Contact Tom Schad at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.