Without fail, there’s always an awkward moment when Ed Chavez meets the Colorado Rockies during spring training.
“One of the first questions I ask is, how many of you have experienced physical injury? And of course almost everybody raises their hand because they’re ballplayers,” Chavez, the Rockies’ clinical psychologist, told CBS Sports.
“Then I ask: “How many of you have experienced a mental health problem or mental health challenge? Raise your hand”. You can feel the tension in the room”.
Some players slowly raise their hands, Chavez said. Others look like they aren’t sure if they should or not.
Chavez acknowledges the tension in the room and asks the players if they feel it too. They always nod in agreement.
“I know some of you guys may have been unsure if your condition qualifies as a mental health challenge. Or maybe you’ve been afraid of being judged,” he tells them. “Let’s talk about it.
“We all face mental health challenges. It’s part of the human experience. We’re all going to experience whether it’s a mild degree of depression or anxiety, or we can feel incredibly stressed. We all feel it.”
Chavez compares it to when someone asks you how you are. The default response is usually “okay” or “okay”. But this is not always true. When asked how they feel physically, on the other hand, people tend to be more honest.
“Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could have honest conversations about mental health like we do about physical health?” Chavez told CBS Sports. “Our goal with an organization like the Rockies is that, when a player is struggling with mental health, I want them to get support just as easily as if they pulled a ligament or sprained an ankle.”
To make it easy for players to visualize things affecting their minds, Chavez likes to use what he calls the mental health banking method. Things that affect you negatively, such as not getting enough sleep or comparing yourself to others on social media, are “attractions.” Positives like hobbies and a good night’s rest are “deposits”. If you keep withdrawing without depositing, you eventually find yourself in trouble.
It’s a simple concept, but sometimes it’s easier said than done. While playing professional baseball seems like a dream come true, the pressures are unimaginable.
“You never really make it in Major League Baseball. You feel like you have to prove yourself every day,” former MLB outfielder Billy Bean, who now works for MLB and helps with the baseball program, told CBS Sports. mental well-being.
Bean — who played for the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres — noted the financial stresses in particular. Superstars may lock down contract extensions, but most players are fighting every day to keep their jobs and guarantee a paycheck for next season. Having to constantly prove yourself means it’s easy to get in your own head, Bean said.
“Every day is not going to be perfect,” he said. “Even guys like Mike Trout, he went 0-for-26 last year.”
Just like trainers heal a sprained ankle, MLB teams employ specialists who help players prepare mentally to perform at their best when needed. For the Rockies, that’s Douglas Chadwick.
“Baseball is so hard because of the amount of failure involved,” Chadwick told CBS Sports. “Dealing with that effectively and being consistent in the high-stress conditions of the game requires understanding where to draw confidence from. It’s about being in the moment, being present, letting go of the last pitch and being able to focus on that. field now.”
Chadwick teaches players how to focus on their confidence and reframe their thoughts effectively. On the mound, for example, he works with pitchers to develop a routine that includes physical actions and thoughts that help bring them back to the present moment.
It also ensures that players have identities that are not entirely dependent on their performance as an athlete.
“If your whole identity is tied to what you do and not who you are, you can get into a lot of trouble dealing with adversity,” Chadwick said.
But what happens when you feel that who you are as a person is not accepted? This isolation is what Bean experienced in his playing days.
The high school valedictorian and college baseball All-American began his career after being selected by the Tigers in the fourth round of the 1986 MLB Draft. Within two years, he was called up to the majors, then returned to several MLB teams and Nippon Professional Baseball. But off the field, Bean was dealing with something much bigger than his playing time: he was secretly gay, hiding his truth because, at the time, it seemed like the only option.
“I felt like somebody like me didn’t belong in Major League Baseball,” he told CBS Sports.
His partner, Sam, died of HIV-related complications the day before Bean began the 1995 season with the Padres. He suffered the loss in silence.
“When my partner died of HIV, it felt like the last example of me not belonging,” Bean said.
Bean went public in 1999, four years after retiring. Now, he serves as MLB’s Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. His goal is to make sure no player feels the same isolation he did.
The league has changed significantly since the 1990s, as has society and culture in the United States in general. The approach to mental health is not perfect, but there has been an overhaul. Today, players are encouraged not to go through their struggles alone.
This season, three players have entered the injury list for mental health reasons: Oakland A’s reliever Trevor May, Detroit Tigers outfielder Austin MeadowsAND Rockies closer Daniel Bard. For a player to do so, he “must be evaluated and diagnosed by a qualified mental health professional as suffering from a mental disability that prevents a player from providing services,” according to the league.
“It’s a hard thing to accept,” Bard, who previously returned to the majors after overcoming mistakes, told reporters in March. “But I’ve been through this before. I’ve had enough work outside of the game to understand what’s important … I’m extremely grateful to be in an organization that understands these things and is accepting them.”
Chadwick noted that mental health struggles are nothing new, but players used to (and probably still do) hide what was really going on, instead simply attributing their absence to an injury. Players who have been brave enough to discuss something so personal in public deserve a lot of respect, he said.
“I think coaches in particular have become much more sensitive to it,” Chadwick told CBS Sports. “The kind of old-school mentality of taming it down, survival of the fittest, has really been replaced by a more humanistic approach.”
Chadwick travels with the team and, thanks to a new MLB rule, sits in the dugout with the players during games. He builds relationships with them and helps them understand how to get mental help. But he doesn’t diagnose them – that’s Chavez’s job.
Veteran players are still less likely to talk about their problems, but younger players seem more willing to share, both Rockies specialists said. Although the younger generation is more open-minded, Chadwick and Chavez both said mental health resources are still largely untapped by athletes. However, the progress they have seen over the years is making them optimistic about the future.
“We have to make it a lifestyle, something we talk about every day like we think about our physical health,” Chavez said. “We think about the food we put in or our bodies as well as our workouts. If we do the same with our mental health, we’ll be thriving. We’ll feel strong.”
If you or someone you know is struggling, MLB has one Free crisis text line (“MLB” at 741741) available 24/7 in English and Spanish for anyone needing confidential mental health and crisis support.
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