DETROIT — The sight of Austin Meadows doing running and agility drills on the field at Comerica Park on Friday afternoon was a familiar one; the Tigers outfielder has been working out daily before most of the team arrives as he rehabs from Achilles issues. The mental struggles of a difficult season, however, had been virtually invisible until he revealed them later Friday.
“What I have told very few people is that I also have been struggling with my mental health in a way that has extended my time away from the game that I love so much,” Meadows said in a statement he released on social media. “I’ve been dealing with this privately with a great team of professionals, but I need to continue to put in the hard work off the field towards feeling mentally healthy.
“While I’ve been back in the clubhouse the past few weeks, and plan to remain with the club through the end of the season, I am still not ready to return to the field. I am so grateful for my family, my teammates, and the Tigers organization for supporting me through this. I can’t do this alone, and I hope in sharing my experience I can touch at least one person who might be going through their own struggles and encourage them to reach out to someone for help.”
Meadows is not expected to return to action this season, manager A.J. Hinch said, but the team will continue to support him in his efforts. He’ll keep working out at Comerica Park and will work with Tigers staff and private assistance.
“He wanted to share with everyone what he’s going through. I commend him for doing it,” said Hinch, who has spent time talking with Meadows over the last couple weeks. “I’m very proud of him. It’s not easy in this sport, as an athlete, as a competitor, to admit when you need help outside the normal scope of baseball.
“We’ll offer him all the support we can, and we have been. It’s tough to hear, but I very much feel good about the path ahead. … He’s on a great path. He’s surrounded by a lot of great people. He’s got a ton of support, and his statement speaks for itself.”
The Tigers acquired Meadows from the Rays in exchange for infielder Isaac Paredes on April 5, near the end of Spring Training. The deal put the 27-year-old in the same organization as his younger brother, Detroit’s No. 17 prospect Parker Meadows, but it also took the older Meadows — a former Pirates Draft pick — out of the organization where his career took off. He hit 33 home runs for Tampa Bay in 2019, then 27 last year.
Once Meadows contracted a non-COVID illness in mid-May, he fell into a cycle of stops and restarts that halted his season. He went on the injured list with vertigo on May 16, returned for a week in early June, then went on the COVID-19 injured list on June 17. His Achilles flared up in both feet while on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Toledo in early July, leading to a stint on the traditional injured list.
“I’ve been talking to him almost every day. Obviously, he’s had a pretty rough year,” Parker Meadows said last month. “I know everybody wants him to be out there and I know he wants to be out there. It’s been tough for him.”
Meadows played four rehab games with Toledo from Aug. 10-14, before returning to Detroit for further evaluation. The Tigers said at the time that he wasn’t ready for game action. What wasn’t publicly known was that his struggles went beyond physical issues.
“He’s confided in me and a few others,” Hinch said. “He’s kept this pretty private to himself as he’s navigated all these things. The physical ailments were real, and they were things he was dealing with over and over again. The last time he played, when he was on rehab, was the first time that he called me directly about it.”
The decision to go public about it was entirely up to Meadows.
“I can’t say enough how proud I am of him,” Hinch said. “Maybe there’s one kid out there, maybe there’s a teammate out there, maybe there’s an ex-teammate, maybe there’s somebody around the league that is struggling on their own and curious whether or not they should call for help or even admit that they have some issues that they need to work through. Austin has chosen the path to be proactive and help others while helping himself and getting to the next step of his recovery.”