Portland Sea Dogs slugger shares his struggles with anxiety, depression

May 11—Blaze Jordan hid it until he couldn't. Until it became impossible to overlook the 25-pound weight loss, the result of being unable to get down more than a few crackers each day. Until he woke up one morning late in the summer of 2021 and found that he could barely walk. Until he couldn't stop hyperventilating and had to be hospitalized for nearly a week.

It was then that Jordan — a slugging corner infielder for the Portland Sea Dogs — finally confronted the anxiety and depression that was consuming his life.

The coronavirus pandemic had shuttered the 2020 minor league season and delayed the start of Jordan's professional career. A 2020 third-round pick by the Red Sox out of DeSoto Central High School in Southaven, Mississippi, Jordan had begun that season with Boston's Rookie League team in Fort Myers, Florida.

He earned a promotion to the High-A Salem Red Sox after hitting .362 with four home runs and 19 RBI in 19 games. Teammates, coaches, family and fans saw a happy-go-lucky Blaze eager to play ball.

It was an act, and Jordan kept feeling worse.

When he finally broke that morning in Salem, he was rushed by ambulance to a local hospital, where he was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression. He missed the final two weeks of the season and knew he needed help.

"I remember telling the doctor, 'Please put me to sleep for good.' I just didn't want to deal with the pain," Jordan, now 21, said recently during batting practice before a Sea Dogs game. "My mother was right there beside me when I said that. That really hurt me, having her hear me say that.

"The biggest thing I remember is I was feeling sick for a couple days. I wasn't eating or anything. I just didn't want to do anything. It was when COVID was going on, so we couldn't go out and do anything. It was just a lot of things going through my mind. Then I reached a breaking point."

Jordan shared his struggles with anxiety and depression in an Oct. 1 post on X (formerly Twitter). Since then, the rising prospect said he's worked hard on himself, leaning on his family, teammates and the Red Sox organization for the support he needs.

"Just being around the guys (helps)," he said. "I heard a lot of good feedback from guys on other teams, saying it's nice to see someone else being open about it," Jordan said. "I feel like it's made a little bit of an impact, and that's helped me a lot, too."

Brian Abraham, Boston's director of player development, said the Red Sox organization takes a holistic approach to players' health and knows mental health is just as important as staying in shape physically.

"The reality is we're dealing with kids leaving high school, leaving college, sometimes leaving home for the first time, and they're dealing with an unfamiliar, competitive environment," he said. "Sometimes it's not always about baseball. Having a balance with off-field life is part of it."

The organization has employed mental health professionals for several years, he said, and counselors are available to players when they ask for them. Major League Baseball in recent seasons has also focused on mental health, allowing players to step away and seek help when they need it. Last season, several players spent time on the injured list to focus on their mental wellbeing, including Colorado Rockies pitcher Daniel Bard, Oakland Athletics pitcher Trevor May, Detroit Tigers outfielder Austin Meadows and Minnesota Twins pitcher Jorge Lopez.

There's a greater emphasis on mental health now than there used to be across all sports, said Dr. Erin Hatch, a psychologist with Maine Medical Partners in Portland. Hatch said we could be seeing more athletes dealing with mental health issues and willing to openly discuss what they've been going through.

"I think as we get more comfortable communicating and talking about it, it brings more awareness. But I think athletes have always had trouble with depression and anxiety," Hatch said. "What we know overall is that the generations that are coming up are more comfortable talking about their mental health, which is really great. In some ways, they experience greater distress than maybe generations of the past."

Hatch pointed to several symptoms that athletes should take seriously. A drop in energy level. A change in personality. Feelings of isolation or not wanting to be involved. Consistent negative thought patterns.

"When something happens, do I interpret this through a positive lens or a negative lens?" Hatch said. "Are they noticing more tension in their body? Is it hard for them to recover? Our body, mind and thoughts are all interconnected, so we want to be mindful of every single level of that, of changes that are occurring."

Jordan said his anxiety began when he was a high school senior in the spring of 2020. Like Maine native Cooper Flagg, who will play college basketball at Duke next season, Jordan reclassified and graduated a year early in order to begin his professional athletic career.

He had been in the public eye since he was 11 when a video of him belting a home run at a big league ballpark in Texas went viral.

Just 16 when he began his senior year, he dreamed of one day playing in the major leagues, but negative social media posts about his game ushered in self-doubt.

Was he really good enough to play pro baseball? He didn't know anymore.

In June 2020, the Red Sox selected Jordan in the third round, the 89th player chosen overall. He knows it should have been the happiest time of his young life, but it wasn't.

"A lot of things at once," he said. "I couldn't figure out why I wasn't happy."

Jordan kept his feelings to himself for so long, he said, because he didn't want to feel like a burden on his family or to seem weak to his friends and teammates. He now knows that only made things worse. He also understands now that he's far from the only player who struggles with anxiety.

"The players are all here for each other, too. We're a really close-knit group, so that helps," he said. "We can talk to each other about anything, and that's really nice."

Jordan said he leans on his faith when feeling anxious.

"I'm a Christian. I grew up in church. I always go back to prayer. Whether it's in the dugout or on the field, I've just got to turn to God and ask him to take it away from me. It relaxes me, so that's what I go to," he said.

Jordan struggled at the start of the season. He was hitting just .146 through the first 11 games before he found his swing again in late April in Hartford.

Entering Friday night's game against Binghamton, Jordan had a .283 batting average, with two home runs, 16 RBI, and 12 runs scored. Jordan singled Thursday night to extend his hitting streak to 17 games. His strikeout rate of 10.5 percent, 11 in 104 plate appearances, was down from 14.5% last season. On April 29, Jordan was named Eastern League Player of the Week after hitting .444 (12 for 28) in Portland's six-game series at Hartford, with two home runs, eight RBI and four doubles in the series.

"I just always start off slow every year, so I wasn't really stressing or anything. I knew it was going to come at some point," he said. "I felt like I was swinging at good pitches (at Hartford) and got my confidence back a little bit and figured out my swing.

"That's just how baseball works. Baseball takes and baseball gives. That's another reason you can't really stress about it. Go out there and play hard each day and everything will take care of itself."

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