Tigers show support for Austin Meadows

Detroit Tigers

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Austin Meadows talked in Spring Training about the happiness of being back on a baseball field after ending last year on the injured list. He wasn’t just physically healthy, he was also in a better state mentally, after going public late last season about his battle with anxiety and mental health.

But even in his joy on his first day at camp, he acknowledged that mental health is a long-term process.

“I think it’s constant work,” Meadows said on Feb. 18. “I have a great team of therapists, [a] great team of people that helped me learn certain things and learn how to handle certain situations when something might be popping up. … I think it’s a daily thing.”

It was heartening, then, that in addition to the Tigers organization, players all over the Tigers clubhouse expressed their support and understanding for Meadows after he stepped away from the team last weekend to address his mental health.

But the biggest, most understanding voice might have been Mason Englert, the Rule 5 Draft pick who has forged a role in the Tigers bullpen and a popular spot in the clubhouse.

Englert can empathize with Meadows, because he has been in a similar spot. He struggled with panic attacks in the Minor Leagues and found help. He also learned how to monitor his mental health, recognize signs that he might be nearing a difficult place and learn how to address it.

“For me, the first time, it went from like 0 to 100,” he recalled. “I didn’t know; I’d never experienced it. After that, I just wasn’t right, seriously struggling for four months, then four to six months of being in and out of it pretty frequently, and then I kind of got to [where I am] now.

“It’s a long process. It took more than a year to figure out, and then maintain. It takes practice and work every day. It’s a part of your routine. And just have faith that if you are feeling something, it’s not going to be like that forever, even if it feels like that. It’s hard to keep perspective sometimes. Everything passes.”

Englert practices meditation. When he spent much of this past offseason in Michigan with his girlfriend, he practiced cold exposure, taking morning dips into the Grand River around Grand Rapids. He learned to put mental and physical health in tandem.

The Tigers have made mental health a big part of their efforts to provide players support. They have four psychologists as part of their staff, each with different backgrounds. They’ve also encouraged players to feel comfortable reaching out if they want to talk.

“As an organization, we have taken many steps to provide and destigmatize mental health resources, and we will do more to help our players tackle the mental and physical challenges they face on a daily basis,” president of baseball operations Scott Harrissaid in a statement Saturday. “We commend Austin for confronting these challenges head-on and ask our fans to join us in supporting him through every step of his journey back to the field.”

The effort to remove the stigma, Englert said, is big.

“Just having the support of everybody is super important, which I believe Austin does. That’s what’s really nice about this case,” Englert said. “What Scott did, coming out ahead of everything to say, ‘Hey, if you guys need anything this year, we want to make your minds healthy,’ it’s making players feel safe.

“If they are in one of those spots where something’s off, then it’s easy to go forward and say, ‘This is what’s up, this is what I need.’ And then everybody can give them the best support that they deserve. It’s a healthy environment.”

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