Features

Sep
2013

Four-Eyed Fielder

Oakland A’s Eric Sogard channels #nerdpower on and off the field in Kaenon


By Christine Yeh

A search for the hashtag “nerd power” (that’s #nerdpower for those in the social media know) on Instagram yields over 8,500 results. The majority of these posts, be it photos or videos, are users showing off and posing in glasses or anything deemed “nerdy.” But a good portion of these posts relate to MLB team Oakland Athletics and its rising star—infielder Eric Sogard.


Oakland A’s fans show their Sogard support, cheering for their favorite four-eyed fielder on Instagram with “rally specs.” Instagram photos courtesy of (left to right): Bailey Stanley, Benjamin Christensen, Tayazin Gonzalez and Matthew Gentz.

Baseball and... glasses? Got that right. No… this isn’t another story about a baseball player (or sport athlete for that matter) wearing a particular brand of sunglasses. Yes… many ballplayers don sport sunwear while playing in daytime games. But how many wear clear Rx specs ON the field? There are a handful of pitchers who do so but currently the only position player in the majors wearing glasses is 27-year-old Eric Sogard.

In the midst of his first full season with the A’s, Sogard is scoring on and off the field in his frame of choice—Kaenon style 401. When Kaenon, a company known primarily for performance-oriented sunglasses equipped with its proprietary SR-91 polarized sun lenses, clued 20/20 in about Sogard’s Rx-wearing game, we were instantly intrigued. Even more so after we heard Sogard’s glasses (yes, his glasses) even has its own MLB blog. More on that later.

Born and raised in Phoenix, Ariz., Sogard and his brother Alex grew up with a love for sports, playing baseball since they could walk. As a sophomore in high school, he discovered he needed glasses for distance. Sogard rotated his glasses with contact lenses back then but favored glasses more, even while playing baseball. “It was funny because I would wear contacts for school but when I was at baseball practice, I’d take them out and put my glasses on,” says Sogard. “My vision was much clearer with glasses. I have astigmatism so the contacts weren’t always the clearest for me on the field; they just didn’t give me the clearest vision I could get. I never had a problem with glasses, so I just always stuck to them.”

And “stick” he did, through high school, through college at Arizona State, through the minor leagues and now in the MLB. And while he has never experienced any major problems with his glasses during play, Sogard says he didn’t realize how much clearer his vision could be until he was introduced to Kaenon. “In the past when I needed new glasses, I would just go to the eyeglass store and get whatever glasses I felt fit me or worked for me. I never really put too much time and effort into it,” he admits.

When Kaenon CEO Steve Rosenberg approached Sogard about their new optical series, his perspective changed. “This past off-season, Steve contacted me about these new glasses they’re coming out with that have some pretty cool technology with the frames and lenses. He asked if I wanted to give them a try and sent a pair out to me, and I’ve been wearing them ever since. And I love them.” Sogard says convincingly.

The main seeing point for Sogard is as pure as it is simple. “What I really love about them is the consistent, clear vision throughout, especially playing a sport where you have to constantly use your peripheral vision. When I’m looking out through the side of my lenses, they’re super clear and with my previous glasses, I noticed they would blur up when you start looking far to the side.” He also likes that the frame doesn’t have nosepads. Made of lightweight TR-90, the fit is perfect. Not only does he need to be able to see the ball clearly, it’s imperative the glasses stay on and not slide off whether he’s making a diving catch or a 6-4-3 double play. The frame’s flexibility and memory-retentive properties achieve this. “I’ve worn metal glasses in the past with nosepieces and when I’m diving around and sliding into bases, sometimes they bend and that fluctuates my vision.” He often gets asked how he is able to keep his glasses on. “That’s my game—I’m always diving everywhere and going after everything. They stay on, with no problem at all.”

Wondering why Sogard prefers clear Rx glasses over sunglasses, especially since most ballplayers opt for sunglasses (Rx or plano), whether they’re in the form of sport sun frames, goggles or flip-up shields? “I’ve tried sunglasses, but I really feel like I don’t need them. Maybe it’s from growing up in Arizona and being used to the bright sun.” Even when catching a pop-up? (Which for non-baseball folks, occurs when a batter hits a ball high in the air that stays in the infield, requiring the fielder to look directly upward, sometimes facing the sun if it’s during a day game.) “I’ve never had a problem with it; I figured even with sunglasses, if the ball goes directly into the sun, it’s gonna be tough to catch no matter what. I’m fine with getting in there and just eyeing down the sun.”

“Eyeing down the sun.” Now that’s a bold and fearless challenge. Of course, 20/20 isn’t advocating forgoing proper sun protection, but we’re impressed at Sogard’s loyalty to his Kaenon specs.

As much as the glasses play a vital role in his on-field performance, they’re also earning accolades among Oakland A’s fans and throughout the baseball world. At the start of the 2013 season, MLB asked Sogard to blog about his adventures in eyewear. Written from the perspective of Sogard’s glasses with an image of the Kaenon 401 frame splashed across the blog’s home page, its posts are lighthearted snippets as seen from “behind-the-lens” of his glasses, laced with plenty of eyewear puns and plays on words, i.e., “SPECtacular,” “I can feel it in my frames,” etc. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Right up 20/20’s alley and pretty hilarious, I tell Sogard. He seems to get a kick out of 20/20 getting a kick out of his blog. Sogard’s wife Kaycee has been instrumental in helping him get the blog started. The two have a terrific dynamic that helps him connect with fans while still focusing on his game, especially at a crucial point in his career as he looks to earn a full-time starting position on the team. “Of course my main focus is playing but the blog is something I like to do, and she likes it too. We work on it together; I give her some ideas and together we knock out some posts and hope to get some more followers.”

Wearing my glasses puts me apart from everyone else, and people notice that—it gives them something to cheer for me about.

Meanwhile among A’s fans, Sogard’s glasses and “personality” have taken on a life of its own. From a performance and personality standpoint, the glasses have certainly helped him engage with fans and contribute to his overall game in a positive way. “Wearing my glasses puts me apart from everyone else, and people notice that—it gives them something to cheer for me about.” Those cheers are loud and certainly not unheard. His loudest cheers come from a group of fans who sit in right field at O.co Coliseum, the Athletics’ ballpark in Oakland, Calif. “These guys in right field are the craziest fans ever—they’re amazing and they always have the most awesome signs for our players,” he laughs. For Sogard, the fans have a big sign with a huge pair of glasses on them with the words #NERDPOWER underneath. “It’s pretty funny—my glasses put off that vibe, you know, being the nerdy guy and all.” And that nerdy guy has gained a loyal and cult-like following, becoming a social media sensation, particularly on Instagram and Twitter. A’s fans are posting pictures of themselves in glasses and hashtagging them with #nerdpower. And when Sogard gets an RBI, scores a run or makes a great defensive play, his fans do “rally specs,” that thing we all used to do as kids, when you flip your hands upside down and give yourself glasses. According to Sogard’s glasses on the blog, “That mindless little hand gesture has become a legit way to show your Sogard support.” Rally specs pictures are also the rage on Instagram among A’s fans. Even Sogard’s teammates have been seen doing them in the dugout during games.

Fielder's Choice
Kaenon's Steve Rosenberg assists on a Kaenon double play

How did you discover Eric Sogard and what led you to approach him on wearing Kaenon glasses?
I noticed Eric when he came up a couple years ago (through the minor leagues). I initially noticed his play—Pete Rose-style, scrappy infielder. I really liked his game; he was fun to watch. Of course, I couldn't help notice he was playing in basic, nondescript Rx optical frames—a true rarity for position players. What really drew me into him was a feeling that Kaenon could help him... after every play or swing at the plate, he would constantly push his frame back up his nose or adjust the frame on his face. It was clear to me that his current frame was ill-fitting, and behind the scenes we happened to be in the midst of preparing for our initial launch into ophthalmic frames. Simply put, he got my attention and I thought I could help the kid out with optical frame and lens solutions that could help his game.

The sport eyewear category is no longer strictly limited to eyewear traditionally worn for performance sports—it has crossed over into the lifestyle category, while Rx optical frames have crossed over into performance sports. Do you think this is a trend that's here to stay, and what impact do you think Rx optical frames will have on the sport arena?
Absolutely! This is why we created Kaenon. So many of us wear optical frames or contact lenses and don't want to be hindered by them in our pursuits but rather allow them to help us look better, see better and enjoy life more. Many of us at Kaenon live the active lifestyle and so do our friends. Our motivation was to develop better fitting performance frames that were engineered for athletic use and pursuit (lightweight, comfortable), with design aesthetics and details that allowed for and favored the crossover to everyday fashion/streetwear—and I just didn't see any one brand doing this... or doing it well. After our initial success in the polarized sun category, the next natural evolution for Kaenon was to take our design and engineering philosophy and established reputation into the optical frame category to complement our sun and sun Rx platform. To see a professional athlete at the top of his game on the field like Eric seamlessly adapt and take to our initial frame offering on to the field with such overwhelming success, we're confident that we're only beginning to scratch the surface of product development of this new category of Rx eyewear. To see Eric use the same product on the field that a rock star like Alabama Shakes lead singer Brittany Howard uses on stage as an accessory for style and sight is exactly what we hoped to achieve as we entered the frame business—that crossover appeal that so many of us are looking for, but simply wasn't available.

What type of feedback has Kaenon received from Eric wearing the Kaenon 401 style?
From Eric, it's been terribly satisfying. He's having his best season as a professional player, and there's a subculture of fans in Oakland who are dubbing "nerd power" around him. Because these frames are discreetly branded and designed for everyday street use, it will be our job to educate the optical community about our products, positioning and niche we're developing within this crowded space.

Kaenon has been built around innovation and authenticity. We create products to solve real, everyday problems, and we prefer when our product or others speak for our quality and demonstrate our superior performance in both engineering and design—we're as genuine as it comes. I truly see Eric as an inspiration to all those kids out there who need to wear corrective lenses to play sports. Like everything we do at Kaenon, we'll strive to do it the right way and hope the optical community shows their appreciation by stocking and fitting their patients in quality Kaenon frames and products. ■

There was a time when the rally specs gesture wasn’t a positive thing; they were done to poke fun at those who wore glasses. Back when, you were a nerd if you wore glasses, and you certainly were not cool. That stereotype has been erased, and fashion, music, entertainment and especially sports have played influential roles in stripping the negative, nerdy stigma attached to wearing glasses. Now it’s cool to be a nerd, and kids and adults alike are showing that off in creative ways using that simple little #nerdpower hashtag.

When I tell Sogard he appears in Hall of Frames in 20/20’s July issue in his Kaenons, he seems thrilled: “Me? I’m in it? Very cool!” Sogard agrees that times have changed since he first wore glasses, though as a kid, he never once felt like he hated wearing them, even if other kids made fun of him. “I’ve always enjoyed wearing them and always felt like they were a part of me. They’re basically my eyes as I would call them.” He certainly didn’t mind the nicknames, even now. “Being in baseball, there aren’t a lot of guys wearing glasses so I tend to get some funny nicknames like the ‘Mad Scientist’ or ‘Harry Potter.’ But I love it, it’s all in good fun.”

Despite all the attention from fans and media, Sogard remains humbled and certainly isn’t fazed by it, insisting that the glasses truly serve performance purposes. “Obviously on the field, it’s performance first—I’m definitely not out there to be looking like this because I want to; it’s really what’s going to put me in the best position to see at my best.”

C’mon now, Eric. We believe you, but we gotta wonder if there’s a tiny sliver of a chance that looks matter to you, just a bit? “Ok... a little bit!” Sogard laughs. “I’ve definitely noticed more compliments wearing these glasses than my previous glasses. They’re different, much more stylish than what I used to wear.” He’s loyal to the 401 style and plans to stick with it for the season but is considering trying other styles in the future. He has multiple pairs for backup in case of emergency situations, which he says have occurred in the past. And the tortoise crystal is his go-to color; he picked it out himself with some help from Kaycee of course. He seems pleased when I tell him that he chose a very fashion-forward color—the tortoise to crystal fade is a hot eyewear trend right now.

When asked what the future holds, Sogard replies, “Hopefully a nice long career of playing baseball and to continue wearing glasses. As long as they keep working for me, I’m gonna keep wearing them.” He then mentions that he has considered LASIK surgery in the past and came very close to having it, but was told it would be a special procedure since his pupils dilate larger than normal. “I thought if any one little slip-up occurs, my career is over and I wasn’t willing to take that chance when these glasses are really doing their job. I’m seeing 20/10 with my glasses... if LASIK gave me 20/20, I wouldn’t be happy. It still wouldn’t be as good as my glasses.”

As this issue goes to press, the A’s are currently tied for first place in the American League West division and are top contenders for this fall’s pennant race. With Sogard looking to take the starting second base position on his team, along with a baby on the way and a host of loyal A’s fans rally spec-ing him on, the future indeed looks bright for Sogard... but he doesn’t need to wear shades. He’s got his Kaenon Rx glasses. ■

 

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