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Original Issue

Taking the Red Eye

Tinted contacts are giving players a new lens on life

HIS ORIOLES were in first place and second baseman Brian Roberts had the highest batting average in the majors (.374), but that's not why he has a rose-colored view of the world. Since spring training Roberts, at the time a career .264 hitter, has worn red-tinted contact lenses (officially "amber") during day games. "You're able to focus and see the spin and rotation of the ball better," says Roberts (left), who last year wore clear contacts without sunglasses while at bat. "But it freaks people out. You kind of look like Satan."

A smattering of other big leaguers sport a similar look--"The guys on the team call them devil eyes," says Red Sox reliever Mike Timlin, whose eyes are pictured above. But the soft, Nike- and Bausch & Lomb--produced lenses, which will be available to the public in August (for about $20 a pair, the same as regular lenses) are now offered primarily to Nike clients. Conceived in 1997 by Dr. Alan Reichow, a professor of optometry at Pacific University, the lenses, like sunglasses, block out UVA and UVB rays to reduce glare. They also block 90% of blue light, causing the ball to pop out from big league backgrounds, which are heavy on the blue end of the spectrum. Tinted contacts are also convenient. "I hate wearing sunglasses in a game," says White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "The nosepiece slips, you have to wipe sweat off the lenses. With these, there's no extra bulk."

Nike has also fitted players in the NFL, tennis and soccer, and D.C. United goalie Nick Rimando says the lenses improve his reaction time on high balls. Timlin (right) is also a believer. "These keep me from squinting, so my eyes don't get as tired," he says. "That lessens the stress on my mind." His ERA this year? A relaxing 1.52.