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Anxiety Becoming a Prominent Issue Among Major League Ballplayers

Photo courtesy of MLB.com

It’s highly unlikely that social anxiety disorder, a condition characterized by irrational nervousness toward big social situations and physical symptoms like muscle tension and increased heart rate, only started manifesting itself in professional baseball players within the last 25 years. We don’t know too much about the condition nowadays, let alone earlier in the 20th century when it might as well have not even existed.

In recent years, however, we’ve seen an alarming number of established major league talents falter to almost career-threatening levels. Today’s MLB.com article by Doug Miller makes light of the situation.

Royals ace Zack Greinke almost let social anxiety ruin his career. He failed as a Major Leaguer after carrying the pressure of becoming a top-shelf pitcher and letting the anxiety crumble around him. But he made it back in 2008 and showed he still had the potential to deliver as a frontline starter.

This season, after learning to cope with his anxiety and be more comfortable around groups of people, Greinke has established himself as one of the elite starters in the game with a 9-3 record, 1.90 ERA and 111 strikeouts, making him the odds-on favorite to start for the American League in the All-Star Game.

There are, however, cases of anxiety popping up in baseball this season that has made baseball take further notice of the condition. Cardinals shortstop Khalil Greene has been hitting around .200 since the 2008 season, and he has let it eat away at him to the point where the Cardinals had to place him on the disabled list because of anxiety.

Dontrelle Willis of the Tigers is another example. A former Cy Young candidate, Willis has shown no imminent sign of the form he had in 2005, when he won 22 games for the Florida Marlins. The Tigers also placed him on the DL with anxiety issues earlier this season.

Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds returned from the disabled list, also as a result of anxiety, Wednesday night. He had been suffering through bouts of anxiety and depression since losing his father at 52 over the summer.

It seems pretty obvious now that this is an issue baseball executives will have to monitor more closely. Players earning derisive reputations as “head cases”- Gavin Floyd, Milton Bradley and Rickie Weeks come to mind- could be underachieving at the major league level because of this condition or something like it. It’s great to see that mental disorders like anxiety are finally starting to be combated, because it’s likely something that has always plagued professional athletes.

Despite whatever fans may say, playing a sport in front of tens of thousands of people can have a profound effect on a player’s nervous system, especially if the fear of failure has already manifested itself inside him. The more we take notice of anxiety disorders, the better off MLB and its players will be this season and for years to come.

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June 24, 2009 - Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , ,

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