“I’m fine,” “I’m okay,” and “I’m good,” were the only three responses I had from the ages of 16 to 20 whenever a coach, family member, or friend asked me how I was doing. I actually thought I was “fine” for a long time. But after years of bottling up mixed emotions and feelings, I realized that it’s okay to not be “fine”, but it’s not okay to feel ashamed by those feelings.
Junior college athletes are often overlooked because we don’t have the social media platform that comes along with being a Division 1 athlete. Yet, we still go through the same struggles, often without a voice. Plenty of JUCO athletes have the weight of the world on their shoulders because we don’t have a secure four-year school that provides us with scholarships, housing, full-time dining halls, high-end weight rooms, free tutors, or a great college town to live in. Our futures are always on the line with our performance and when off the field issues come into play, it’s a whole different ball game.
Since my senior year of high school, I’ve been battling depression and anxiety, but nobody knew for almost three years. During high school, I was always a standout baseball player, receiving multiple All-Conference and All-State honors, Perfect Game West Coast honors, and being given an opportunity to continue my playing career at Iowa Western Community College, a top five program for Junior Colleges every year.
During my “redshirt” freshmen season, I was clinically diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Not only was I trying to earn a Division 1 scholarship, but I was also trying to hide my struggles from coaches, teammates, and family. These feelings made me feel like less of a man because I felt weak and embarrassed. I didn’t want anyone to know I was seeing a counselor or living off three to four hours of sleep a night due to panic attacks. I didn’t want people to know I cried every day. I didn’t want people to know the thoughts in my head because I didn’t want sympathy. I didn’t want people to know my grades were slipping or that I wasn’t eating. Of course, it affected my on-field performance, school work, and everyday life.
Baseball used to be an escape, but during this time I lost my passion for the game. Without realizing it, baseball became the biggest part of my life, but in a negative way. I was struggling on the field more than I ever had been. I kept putting myself in tough positions because I wasn’t playing well and I was being my own biggest critic and using my statistics to define me as a person. I want to let every athlete reading this know that statistics do not define who you are. Sports will be over for all of us one day and nobody will remember you because of your batting average of the ERA you posted one season. The teammates I remember most are the ones that had the best integrity, leadership, and the ones with the best attitude on and off the field –the players that had an identity outside of the field.
After two World Series runs, I decided to transfer schools. I ended up at Feather River Community College in Quincy, California –a town with two stoplights, 1,000 people, no on-campus housing, no athletic scholarships, and no cafeteria. After learning how to deal with my depression and anxiety, I was able to impact multiple people on my new campus. We had a small group on campus trying to normalize the stigma of accepting mental health. I was able to share my story and show people there is light at the end of the tunnel. Even though I found recovery in helping others, I still had my own issues to deal with.
During the fall season, I had a sub 1.00 ERA and was batting nearly .335. Still with no four-year college offers, I started judging myself on my statistics again. When the season started up, I was doing really well with a sub 2.00 ERA. After a few rough outings, I was back where I was the year before. When the season came to an end, due to COVID-19, my statistics were rough, but I learned to not let that define me as a person. I knew with my off-field actions, God would find a home for me, and that He did. I had multiple talks with Morehead State, a Division 1 school in Kentucky. Following my phone calls, an injury occurred, and no scholarship was presented.
I tried to work through it, but this injury was something that I would need surgery to repair. I ended up tearing my UCL and underwent Tommy John surgery on July 31, 2020. I wish I could say something great happened after that, but nothing has, YET.
Not all success stories happen right away. Some take time, patience, and faith. All that matters is that I’m alive, healthy, and surrounded by great people in my life. Baseball is just a game, and no matter what sport you play, it’s always bigger than the game. Your mental health and the impact you have on the people around you, that’s what really matters. Having success is great, but if you don’t know who you are, and you live vicariously through your athletic success, I’d do some soul searching to try to find out who you really are.