LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis never thought he needed glasses growing up, and he certainly didn’t think he needed them as he stood in line waiting to get a driver's license at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Lexington, Ky., 16 years ago.
“I go up to get my driver’s license,” Ellis remembers. “And they said, ‘You can’t see.’ I couldn’t pass the vision test.”
Ellis went to see an eye care professional the next day and was tested and fitted for glasses and passed the eye exam a week later. Not only did his glasses help him get his license, but Ellis said they helped him become a major league baseball player.
“Not only could I drive a car, but I could see the baseball now when I played baseball,” Ellis said. “Even more importantly than that, when I went to school, I could see the board, I could read books and I became a much better student. Everything in life just started to feel a lot better.”
As Ellis touched his glasses, he said, “These eyeglasses right here changed my life. I wear contacts when I play, but I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t get my eyesight checked.”
Ellis shared his story Monday morning to a group of students at Dorris Place Elementary School, along with Dodgers reliever Brandon League and Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, as the Dodgers announced a new partnership between the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation and Vision To Learn, a nonprofit organization that provides free eye exams and free glasses to elementary school students in low-income communities throughout Los Angeles.
The idea for the visit came after Colletti had dinner with Austin Beutner, who at the time was the Los Angeles First Deputy Mayor and Chief Executive for Economic and Business Policy (Beutner recently campaigned to become the city’s mayor).
Beutner started Vision To Learn in March 2012, when he said he learned that up to 15 percent of L.A.’s elementary students have undetected vision problems. Since the organization's launch, Vision To Learn has visited 110 schools, examined 8,129 students and provided 6,148 children with free eyeglasses. It’s a number Beutner and the Dodgers hope to more than double in the coming year.
“I wore glasses and had Lasik surgery a few years ago,” Colletti said. “I was one of those kids when I was five or six, and I couldn’t see my hand in front of me most of the time. But somebody took the time to make sure that I was OK, and I’m taking the time to make sure we can make as many people as OK as possible.”
Ellis and League both wear glasses, though each wears contacts when playing. The two Dodgers were featured on the side of a new Vision To Learn Mobile Eye Clinic, which will travel throughout Los Angeles.
“I’ve been wearing glasses ever since I was 10 years old,” League said. “If it wasn’t for glasses, who knows, I might not be standing here today. Sometimes, it can be a hassle, and, sometimes, they can be uncomfortable, but vision is important, and plus, they make you look cool.”
Ellis and League helped examine some of the students' vision in the mobile eye clinic and gave out over 40 pairs of glasses after the event.
“I wish I had something like this when I was younger,” League said. “It wasn’t until I couldn’t read the board in school and had trouble reading the book; now these kids are going to get glasses today and see the world in a different way.”