While the Red Sox have launched an in-house department of behavioral health (a little too late for the likes of Foulke, Lackey and Papelbon, don’t you think?), the Nationals have appointed Rick Ankiel as their new life skills coordinator, the sort of position that might been helpful for 5 year minor league vet Adrian Cardenas. The 2B/LF, drafted 37th overall by Philadelphia in 2006, had the proverbial cup of coffee with the Cubs in 2012, but not before plenty of soul-searching about what threatened to become a somewhat joyless pursuit, one that Cardenas chronicles in part in this week’s New Yorker (“Ways To Stay Sane In Baseball”) (link swiped from Baseball Think Factory) :
Ankiel will use his first-hand experience with failure on and off the field to help mentor players in the Nationals system. He won’t replace a sports psychologist but rather will serve as a less formal outlet for coaches, managers, and players to vent. And yet, there will still be issues of trust and of showing weakness. While quitting in baseball is discussed among players, often disguised as empty rhetoric—“If I don’t start hitting the ball out there, I might as well just quit”—there can still be issues of trust and concerns about showing weakness, even for people with more promising careers than mine was. Shortly after his M.V.P. performance last year in the World Series, the San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner admitted that while in the minors, “I contemplated going home and not choosing to have this lifestyle.” During batting practice, he said, he’d stare at airplanes as they flew by, imagining himself in a seat. His mom, Debbie, said, “It was awful. He called all the time. He didn’t like baseball. He didn’t like nothing.” In the same interview, Bumgarner said, “I’ve never told anyone this story before,” but Bumgarner clearly talked to his mother; by “anyone” he was likely referring to anyone in a position to control his professional future.
I understand Bumgarner’s hesitation. In 2011, my .314 batting average in AAA led the team and I committed only nine errors all year. Still, I was not promoted to the major leagues when rosters expanded in September. From that point on I kept my mouth shut, no matter what mental struggles I was experiencing. There could have been a slew of reasons why I didn’t get the call up, of course, but I suspected that my quitting for a week the year before raised some red flags about my commitment to the game. In 2012, I made my major-league début; that was also the year that I walked away from the game for good.
A player is often aware of the possibility that a team employee—doctor or not—may divulge information to management that could put his job at risk. This “possibility problem” will not necessarily change overnight.