Well, here goes…. Part 5
By Asif Shah
[Editor's Note: This is the final chapter of Asif's five-part account of his struggle with severe anxiety and how it has affected his baseball career and life in general. His story began with a description of life in general for a pro ballplayer, continued with his high school, summer league and college career, and then followed his 2011 season with the Normal CornBelters -- an anxiety-filled season despite putting up career-year numbers, as well as how his 2012 season came to an early end. Asif continues below, describing how a good friend and fellow ballplayer has helped change his perspective.]
During spring training, I usually tend to avoid talking to any of my friends who are playing because I know that they have plenty on their plate, so to speak.
But after spring training ended, I made sure to call Will Walz to see how he was doing. He told me he had been released from the Can-Am League team that had invited him to camp. I was devastated for him because I knew how badly he wanted to be a part of professional baseball.
Yet he didn’t seem to be upset about it at all. He seemed completely ok with it and he was ready to move on with his life. At the time, I wasn’t really sure what was going on in his head. I didn’t understand how someone could love the game so much and come so close to “making it” only to have it taken away. But be OK with it.
As time passed, Will and I tried to keep in touch. He now has a more conventional, full-time job, and I’m still playing baseball, so it’s been tricky. But just a few weeks ago, I was looking through old photos from the Arizona Winter League and came across one of me, him, and two other players. Again, I wondered how he could be fine with being released after such a brief taste of pro ball.
He had been told multiple times that he wasn’t good enough, that pro ball wouldn’t happen for him. But he kept trying. He DID get his opportunity, so when he ultimately got his release he just walked away with his head held high.
I was still baffled. Did he really not want to play pro ball? Or did he have a different goal in mind?
Then it started to click for me: Whereas most pro ballplayers look at spring training as, well, a burden, Will looked at the spring training experience as something special. He has a completely different mindset. He believed that he was a part of something. To him, it wasn’t an attempt to make the team – it was being a part of something that over 90% of the world won’t ever experience.
His making the team would have been icing on the cake. Just being there was something he could always look back on and be proud of. Will had the rare opportunity to put on a professional uniform for a professional team in a professional locker room. He got to hang out with other pro ballplayers, and they accepted him as one of their own. He was part of a family.
The thing about professional baseball is that once you become a part of the family, you will always be part of the family. Will knew this from day one. Did he want to make the team? Of course. Did he bust his tail every single day to make the team? Absolutely.
But he wasn’t going to let the pressures of making the team affect the experience he had in spring training. I’d lost sight of this over the course of my career. I would preach it to others, but I didn’t approach it that way myself. I focused on the losses, how they might be a direct reflection of me as a person. I didn’t care about my statistical numbers because I trusted that they would be there every year. But I put insurmountable pressures on myself on every occasion. I tried to impact the people I’ve met by trying to do something special on the field.
But here’s the thing: I was already doing something special. I put on a uniform and got to play every day.
I can’t say that nothing good has come from the pressures I’ve put on myself. I would never wish upon anyone else what I went through this summer.
But I do know that I have developed some better traits as a result of this. One is a work ethic and desire to improve every year. Before, it was fueled by a fear of failure. Now, striving for success is the stronger driving force.
I feel I’ve broken a barrier that had previously prevented me from reaching higher levels. Now, I won’t say everything is great now – there is plenty of work to still to do. But now I know I have a path to follow. I also know I’m not alone in my battles. One of the scariest parts of my anxiety was feeling alone and separated from reality, that it’s me against the world, and I’m armed with just my bat and glove.
But now I know I have plenty of people that can and have helped me through any struggles.
I’d like to thank many people for being a part of that group, and here are just a few: Mike Provencher, Stephen Holdren, Randy Curless, Courtney Peterson, Jana Gass, Lindsey Warm, everyone at Ignition APG, Amy Grant Green and Austin Schillage, Ken Osterkamp, Bill Lee, Hal Lanier, Brooks Carey, Tom Jackson, and Will Walz.
If I left anyone out, I do apologize. And if I have, in any way, offended anyone with this account of my experience, I apologize from the bottom of my heart.
Further, I’ve received plenty of phone calls and text messages from folks asking about my situation after being traded and again after being placed on the inactive list. At the time, I wasn’t comfortable speaking about what went wrong, but I knew that the word would eventually get out. This account was the best way I could express what had happened throughout this season.
Once again, thank you to everyone who’ve continued to read and I look forward to coming back in 2013!