With a new baby at home, his brother in the clubhouse, Austin Meadows ready to be right for Tigers

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. – They both used the same word to describe it.

Weird. Just weird.

The Meadows brothers have arrived. Together. Austin and Parker Meadows, for the first time in their lives, are teammates and sharing a locker room. They drove to Lakeland together from Austin’s house in Tampa Saturday morning. Austin drove and Parker, once they arrived at TigerTown, carried all the bags.

They walked into the clubhouse together, both sharing hugs with teammates.

“It’s so weird,” said 23-year-old Parker who is on the Tigers’ 40-man roster and in big-league camp for the first time since he was drafted in the second round in 2018. “It hasn’t even really hit me yet that we’re teammates. He was always four-and-a-half, five years older than me. When I was in eighth grade he was a senior, so we never got to share high school together.

“The fact that we are able to do this now is pretty surreal.”

They are separated by several lockers but on the same side of the spacious clubhouse. And even though they are both outfielders, they were in different hitting groups on Saturday. Though they did warmup together before the voluntary workout.

“Pretty exciting stuff,” said Austin, who will turn 28 on May 3. “Seeing him down there (at the other end of the clubhouse), playing catch with him, it’s just kind of weird. This is my sixth spring training and his first. To be able to show him the ropes and show him what it’s all about is pretty special.”

Parents Kenny and Staci are in town, as well, staying in Austin’s house, mostly to be with their two-month old granddaughter, Adelynne. What a feeling, though, to be able to send their sons off to the same big-league camp.

“I can’t even imagine what they are going through,” said Austin. “Stressful and excited. Excited and stressful. They’re excited to see us playing together. It’s a special opportunity. You don’t see this a lot in sports in general.”

Parker Meadows, who put himself on a big-league track by hitting 20 home runs between High-A and Double-A last season, is an intriguing piece of the Tigers’ future. Austin Meadows, who was limited to 36 games with physical and mental health issues last year, is a pivotal piece of the Tigers’ present.

“He’s a middle-of-the-order bat with quality plate appearances and power,” manager AJ Hinch said Saturday morning. “We want him to be the best player and the best person he can be. And he does, too. We’re excited to have him on the field.”

Austin Meadows’ first year with the Tigers – he was acquired from Tampa on April 5 for Isaac Parades – was knocked off the rails initially by injuries. First it was vertigo. Then he got COVID. Then he dealt with Achilles’ tendonitis in both of his legs.

Then on Sept. 2 he revealed in a statement that he was struggling with his mental health and battling anxiety and that he was shutting it down for the remainer of the season and seeking professional help.

“It was awesome that he came out and said that,” Parker said. “We just wanted to let him know that everybody’s got his back. He’s got all the support that he needs and obviously I will always be there for him. I’m excited to see what happens this year. I think it’s going to be a big year for him.”

Austin Meadows sure looked like his old self on Saturday as he was driving balls into both gaps in batting practice on the backfields.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been back on a baseball field and playing competitively,” he said. “I’m just really excited. There’s a lot of adrenaline running through me. It’s nice to be out there with no limitations.”

He said he’d shed 15 to 20 pounds, working out daily in the gym he built in his garage. He’s been hitting outside at a high school near his house for three weeks.

He was asked if he felt freer, like maybe a weight had been lifted off of him.

“One hundred percent,” he said. “First of all, getting myself in physical shape. I was in bad physical shape last year, especially toward the end of the year. I wasn’t playing. It just wasn’t really good. But having an offseason to kind of reset mentally and physically after going through everything I went through – I learned a lot from it.

“I’m excited to get back out there and take what I learned and be me again.”

It’s been four years now since Meadows’ All-Star season in 2019. He hit 33 home runs that year, posting a .558 slugging percentage with an OPS-plus of 144. He hit 27 homers with a 115 OPS-plus in 2021. The Tigers expect him to be their regular right fielder this season.

“For me, I want to prove to myself I can get back to my original form,” he said. “Just get back to being me. I had a lot of success in Tampa Bay. I want to bring that over here to the Tigers and show what I’m about. I wasn’t able to do that last year with the injuries and other stuff going on.”

The other stuff, the anxiety, still requires attention and care. And to that end, he’s built a team of therapists, both in Tampa and Detroit.

“It’s constant work,” Meadows said. “I think anyone who’s going through something would say that. I have a good team of people who have helped me learn certain things and learn how to handle certain situations that might pop up.”

The Tigers are part of his support team.

“We want the best version of Austin,” Hinch said. “I’m super proud of him, just how forward-facing he’s been with his experiences the last 12 months. We are here to support him. We will build a really good support system for him and all of our players.

“His journey has been unique, and he’s handled it very, very well.”

Meadows said the response he got after he made his issues public was overwhelming.

“The way people reached out – it was pretty cool to see all the outreach,” he said. “You know you are not alone, that people are going through stuff, too. They just don’t talk about it. For them to reach out to me, that helped me feel more comfortable and not alone.

“You go through certain things in life that help you grow. That’s the name of it.”

The birth of Adelynne in December put things in perspective for him, too.

“Being able to hold her and realize the miracle of life, it’s pretty crazy,” he said. “To have something now to play for, you realize that’s what it’s all about. It’s been a special few months, to say the least.”

And now he gets to share spring training with his “little” brother Parker, who is actually a couple inches taller than he is.

“I guess he’s my bigger brother,” Austin said, laughing.

Said Parker: “He’s always been my role model, you know. Just at a young age watching him on the field. Whether I was playing with my Power Rangers on the side or riding a scooter, I’ve been watching him my whole life. The fact that we’re teammates now is just surreal.”


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