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  • Writer's pictureChelsea Roemer

Drowning Out The Noise

A tall figure departs the mound in long strides with his face looking towards the ground. While heading straight for the dugout, the echo of an angry crowd begins to fill the stadium. Some fans place blame on the umpires, and others express disgust for the pitcher's performance.


As someone who frequently attends baseball games, I have seen this occurrence more times than I can count. A player, who just happened to have a bad day at work, getting booed mercilessly by fans in the stands at his home stadium. I have been a die-hard baseball fan my entire life, and too have been frustrated when my team does not perform well. But it never fails to make me sorry for the athlete that gave his all and just could not get it done.


It’s usually obvious when the player returns to the dugout with a sour face, that they are really unhappy with themselves. For a long time, I have wondered what toll an event such as this can really have on the athletes mind. Does it ever make them worrisome when they step onto the field next? How shaken is their confidence, and how long does it stay with them?


I’ll never understand what it is like to perform any sort of sport in front of hundreds to thousands of people. The highest level I reached in competitive sports was playing for my high school's varsity volleyball team, and even seeing an average of forty people in the audience made my heart beat a little faster.



Since baseball is such a mental game in addition to the physical portion, I spoke with Isabel Caro, a Senior Coordinator for Mental Health & Safety Programs, to gain more insight on this aspect of the industry.


Isabel has been with Major League Baseball since May of 2018. She started as a Labor Relations Intern after graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in American Government and Politics from Cornell University. After her internship concluded, she was promoted to a full-time role as the Coordinator for Drug, Health and Safety programs, before stepping into her current position.


Since Covid, Isabel shifted to helping create policies, programs, and resources for players and umpires at both the Major League and Minor League levels. Additionally, she attends classes at night at the City University of New York School of Law.


“Working for MLB I saw an opportunity to grow and be creative with what I am passionate about,” Caro said. “I have always been really passionate about the treatment side of mental health and want to help as many people as possible.”


*No Gray Area

When someone mentions struggling with mental health, I immediately think of depression and anxiety as the only two factors that could be affecting them. However, it was explained to me that this is not the case.


There are two different disciplines that are typically evaluated in baseball. The first is behavioral health, which is experienced differently from one person to the next. Behavioral health addresses how people cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community. Anxiety and depression are the two most common behavioral health concerns.


The second discipline is mental performance, which targets an athlete’s mental capacity or ability to endure through an exercise or high-performance situation.



Outside Factors

As much as I occasionally wish I worked a normal 9-5 job that allowed me my weekends during the spring, I will never take for granted the ability to sleep in my own bed every night all year long. I am constantly in awe of how dedicated the staff and athletes are to an occupation that causes them to live such a hectic lifestyle; involving a whirlwind of travel, sometimes even if it means dropping everything to join another affiliate at any given moment.


Additionally, it never fails to impress me how supportive the families are, or how some players embrace coming to a new country to further their professional careers.


“For example, with the latin american players, the social aspect can be very hard to adjust to and may contribute to feelings of homesickness,” Caro said. “In general baseball is tough because the season is long, and the pressure to perform is much greater.”


Each player has a completely different support system, background and goals, and it is difficult to measure exactly how these outside factors affect the athletes.


Always Exposed

In the 21st century, smartphones have given anyone the ability to gather or spread information in a matter of seconds. Individuals can gain insight into the life of a single person with little to no problem at all, after a quick glance at someone’s profile. While social media can be a way to connect and engage with people all over the world, it also serves as a place for individuals to share hateful comments.


It’s no secret when an athlete struggles to perform, especially in a crucial game, because it is then poured onto the internet and analyzed by millions. This makes it hard for athletes to escape, giving them way too much time to think and degrade themselves.


The mental health professionals working with the teams help educate the players and staff on social media usage.


“These athletes are always in the spotlight and the professionals working with the teams see first-hand the effects it has on the athletes,” Caro said. “During the season it can be addressed with the support of the Club professionals, but there is always room for improvement.”


MLB has identified social media as a topic of concern, and is planning on speaking further about the matter during the 2024 Winter Meetings.


Importance of Awareness

Each Major League Organization has at least one individual on staff dedicated to mental health and the industry has rapidly changed over the last few years. It is becoming much more common for athletes to be placed on the injured list with a mental health diagnosis, and publicly voice their struggles to raise more awareness about the topic.


“Good mental health is essential to function as a human, but it can be hard to want to reach out for help,” Caro said. “It's nice to see athletes open up on their platforms to de-stigmatize the subject and inspire others.”


I am sure it's easy for anyone to think that these athletes have an easy lifestyle; getting paid to do what they love, gaining popularity and being adored by millions of fans. However, I don't believe the ridicule that follows is thought about and understood. While it may seem easy to brush off the occasional angry crowd or a hurtful comment by user197XcUIMR22, it may be something an athlete dwells on for an extended period of time behind closed doors.


Sports fans are some of the best when it comes to supporting a team through the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. But, I think when that passion kicks into overdrive and the frustration comes out, everyone can make more of an effort to remember the athletes on the field are human.


Resources

To take a step forward in the commitment to better mental health resources, MLB collaborated with Unmind, in May of 2021. Unmind is a cultural change platform that is offered to not only all minor league athletes, but umpires and support staff as well.


This resource gives users access to tools and insights that can help guide their well being. Unmind is primarily used to manage stress, improve focus and/or sleep better.


It is not always easy to assess everything in general when it comes to mental health because every single person is different,” Caro said. “This helps give players access to help to meet their individual needs as much as possible, in addition to the player programs we have and will continue to develop.”


The framework for mental health programs and research is being viewed by MLB as an holistic approach; starting with education and awareness about the topic, followed by prevention and intervention.


“First we want to provide tools individuals can use on their own to maintain positive mental health,” Caro said. “But the next step is making sure they can get a proper diagnosis and ultimately speak with someone when and if that is needed.”


If you are a Minor League Baseball Player in need of these resources, this link will direct you to the Major League Baseball Mental Wellness page:


For general information on mental health and to locate treatment services in your area, call SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).


*The sports mental health professional interviewed for this topic wishes to stay anonymous for the piece.



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