Anxiety cases suggest mental health issue becoming less taboo in baseball

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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The meeting was one of chance.
Dusty Baker, manager of the Cincinnati Reds, was taken by a friend last week in Toronto for lunch at Tappo Wine Bar and Restaurant, which is co-owned by former NHLer Shayne Corson. Introduced by a mutual acquaintance, they had a lot to talk about.
A day earlier Baker's Canadian slugger, Joey Votto, had spoken publicly for the first time about his troubles with anxiety attacks and depression stemming from his father's death last summer. The revelation hit home for Corson, who struggled through anxiety attacks for the final four seasons of his career and was regularly taking medication between periods of games to make it through the night.
"It was nice to hear a coach who was that understanding and that supportive of his player," Corson said of his chat with Baker. "Driving home later that night I thought to myself, 'Joey is really lucky to have someone like that in his corner, someone who's going to understand what this sickness can do.'
"It would have been really nice to have someone like that, who understood, when I was going through it."
Votto is not alone these days as mental health issues are becoming less taboo in major league baseball.
He is the third player to spend time on the disabled list with anxiety-related issues this season, joining Detroit Tigers lefty Dontrelle Willis and St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Khalil Greene. Factor in Kansas City Royals ace Zack Greinke's spectacular rebound into one of the game's top pitchers after being diagnosed with depression and social anxiety disorder about three years ago, and the topic has never been more prevalent for the sport, at least publicly.
And that suggests a shift in thinking, as making such a revelation in the past would have been very risky for a player. Anxiety problems would likely have been viewed as a sign of softness in hockey, or lack of mental toughness in baseball, each label a kiss of death for someone's career.
"We feel like we're supposed to be big, tough athletes that can handle anything that's put in our way. So we hold it in and believe we can deal with it on our own and that's probably the biggest mistake I made," said Corson, who went public with his problems while playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2001. "I was getting paid good money to play, and a lot of times when you try to open up to somebody about anything to do with mental issues, their answer is, 'Come on, suck it up, toughen up, you can get through it.'
"It's not that simple - once it takes over your mind, it takes over your body, too."
The Reds, to their credit, did all they could to support Votto as he dealt with his issues.
Upon learning of what the Toronto-born first baseman was going through, general manager Walt Jocketty and his staff called in a consultant the team uses to deal with sports psychology issues, and he connected Votto to some other doctors.
From there the Reds learned on the fly while giving Votto his time and space, educating themselves on what to do since many of the programs teams have in place are designed to teach players how to deal with all facets of life as a big-leaguer, but not with any personal issues that may arise.
"Sometimes those are things that aren't necessarily addressed because you don't really know unless something develops," said Jocketty. "I'm not sure that this is something that wasn't more prevalent in the past, it just hasn't been brought to light, not only in baseball but in the corporate world."

Organizations: Cincinnati Reds, Baker's, Detroit Tigers St. Louis Cardinals Kansas City Royals Toronto Maple Leafs

Geographic location: Toronto

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