Red Sox pitcher Joe Kelly likes the fashion statement and comfort. But other professionals and amateur ballplayers might opt for prescription sunglasses for on-field play simply for the protection.
"They are kind of like outfits," Kelly said, "you have to have fashion-forward eyewear and if you have to wear glasses, show it off."
Kelly mixes and matches his eyewear options, working with California-based SportRx to ensure he has a variety of options, both for days he takes the mound and those days he simply needs to look cool going through his pre-game routine. "Obviously I have the clear lenses for when I'm pitching," he said about the rule that requires pitchers not tint their lenses. "For everyday activities on the field, I have another couple pairs with different colored lenses. The different type of lenses helps me see."
Rob Tavakoli, SportRx vice president, said they can pair specific frame and lens configurations for prescriptions and detailed sports conditions, whether for someone looking for a fashion statement or a player needing glasses to protect from the sun while seeing clearly.
"Baseball is big for us and is growing," Tavakoli said. "There have been more and more pros wearing prescription eyewear on the field and told the world it is a thing. It starts to trickle down into the amateur world."
And since most youngsters don't even have the option of getting contacts until their teen years—and even many with the option of contacts preferring glasses for comfort or medical reasons—prescription sunglass eyewear for youth has continued to grow.
The most popular on-field baseball option comes in the Oakley Fast Jacket 2.0 XL and the variations in fit and size available in the Half Jacket and Quarter Jacket for youth. Kelly right now has the latest Oakley version in a matte black frame and red Os on the side for on the mound. "That is usually the frame I look for because the lenses are a little bit smaller and it feels the most comfortable for my face," he said. Kelly does have some in red with brighter lenses with his prescription to offer "more flair" when he is in the dugout or bullpen.
Tavakoli said the traditional sport look performs best with an open bottom for good ventilation, quality wrap on the sides for greater coverage and a high amount of rubberized grip to keep it in place. That same style plays well across all the brands, whether the Under Armour Octane or Igniter 2.0 or Nike Show X2, the most popular styles in the baseball world (Nike has released of a new baseball-centric Hyperforce frame/lens combination).
When it comes to lenses, Oakley has dialed in the baseball-specific world with its Prizm Field. By allowing in only certain light spectrums and blocking others, Oakley engineers have created differing lens tints based on activities. Some lenses work well in the water, accentuating the varying shades of blues to help see in the water, while mountain bikers have an option that helps distinguish browns—dirt and sticks—well from greens and greys. For the Prizm Field, Oakley has looked to outfielders to help make greens and browns separate properly, allowing the white ball to pop against the background.
Tavakoli said the Prizm Field makes for a perfect full-time tinted lens, as it doesn't come in a color changing options. "The guys wearing Oakley are wearing the Prizm Field," he said.
But for those players who mix between day games and night games, expect to see them opt for the Day and Night Prizm lens, which transitions and fluctuates tints based on light needs. SportRx suggests selecting a lens that transitions that darkens to brown instead of gray for the highest baseball-specific contrast without sacrificing sun protection.
Nike's entry into the baseball-specific lens world includes working with optic company Zeiss to debut the new Nike Field Tint this summer, a green-based tint meant to enhance the ability of players to track objects in bright and shifting light. The Nike lens includes a reflective mirror coating on the outer lens to better mute harsh light.
Tavakoli said another aspect to consider when selecting a prescription frame and lens is the ability to interchange lenses, easy to do on most of the traditional sports frames. This allows more dedicated players who may travel and play in a variety of locations to have the option to switch between lenses. In the hot Florida sun, for example, players may want to have a lens with a mirror coating to reflect even more sunlight and essentially make the lens darker. But for those games in the overcast Pacific Northwest, the mirrored lens might prove too much.
While SportRx deals in non-prescription sunglasses, they specialize in creating prescription versions of the sunglass frames and lenses popular in sports. And that's what Kelly enjoys, as he works to keep his look fresh. "I try to stay up with the latest trends," he said. "I try to stay up on what's new and what's hot. They are an accessory and part of you and your style. You can look business or put on a pair that looks like you just got home from the beach. It is fun and allows you to mix and match everyday life and professional sports."
— Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.