Spectators have no idea how difficult that is, partly because they can’t imagine how truly good professional players are and the mental toughness it takes to succeed under never-ceasing scrutiny.
For many, this father told me, the life of a big leaguer is a blessing and a curse. Pro athletes are treated like royalty. They fly on chartered planes. Everything is available for their asking, including gourmet meals and the finest hotel accommodations. But what is given can also be taken away — quicker than fielding a ground ball at shortstop and firing it across the diamond.
Seeing your name penciled in on the line-up card is a statement about your ability. Hitting the field six or more days a week takes its toll. The pressure and responsibility mount as the wear of a six-month schedule of games builds. Hitting a 98 mph fastball in April is one thing, doing it on a sweltering night in August is another.
Don’t perform and 10 people are ready to take your place. Suffer an injury and someone replaces you. Slump and you’re benched. This isn’t an occupation built on job security nor loyalty. Knowing your dreams — your livelihood — can be taken away is frightening.
That doesn’t seem to match Braun’s situation, of course. He was the National League’s MVP in 2011. He was an established star, not a utility man or an infielder with a .230 batting average. He was hitting .298 this year and still carries a .312 lifetime average.
Maybe Braun and others like him are looking for an edge, anything to keep them atop the occupation they’ve spent a life chasing, even if that means using a magic potion available from a Miami clinic.
It would be so much easier to fashion a remedy or understand the problem if it was identified. Until then, players and fans can only speculate about where a career tragically took a wrong turn and fame was replaced by failure.
Tom Lindley is a national columnist for CNHI News Service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.