Royals' Danny Duffy opens up about mental health, being 'lost,' leaving baseball in 2010

Cassandra NegleyYahoo Sports Contributor

Kansas City Royals pitcher Danny Duffy knows this is important, so he’s sharing.

The 30-year-old left-hander spoke at length with the Kansas City Star’s Sam McDowell about his life with bullying, anxiety and depression in a feature out Friday.

He said it was something he’s dealt with his whole life and when he stepped away from baseball in 2010 for “private matters,” it was because of bullying in the clubhouse. But it also led him to therapy and facing his experiences, which he now shares to help others.

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Via the Kansas City Star:

“I prayed on this, man, because having this talk makes me vulnerable. But if one person out there is feeling like I did, and they can read whatever you put out there and feel better about where they are in life, I’m good with doing this, 100 percent.

“I want people to know that I was lost, too. I want them to know that there’s a healthy way out. Sometimes you just gotta search hard enough and grind through it.”

Duffy recounted to McDowell incidences including publicly asking a girl out who said no publicly and being bullied by a high school baseball teammate. He was drafted by the Royals in 2007, skipped college and said he experienced more bullying in the minors where he was “kind of a loner.”

Duffy recounts hazing in minors

Duffy, then 21, said five teammates, led by a ringleader, tormented him daily while he was a rookie in Royals training camp in 2010 after being named the team’s Class A pitcher of the year.

Three weeks into camp, he told general manager Dayton Moore he was leaving, but didn’t reveal the real reasons. In the years since, he’s kept it quiet exactly why. In an MLB.com article from February 2011, he said he wasn’t “mature enough to handle what was going on” and going home to California allowed him to “handle things.”

Via the Kansas City Star:

He even used that excuse with Moore and Royals’ management, fearful of the response from the veteran pitchers if he told the truth. Which is this: Although there were some external relationships outside of baseball that demanded his attention, if not for his experiences in the clubhouse, “there’s not a chance I would’ve quit baseball.”

He went to therapy and was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and panic disorder. The Royals checked in with him. A month later, he said, he was ready to come back and has been pitching for the big league club ever since. He has a career 3.97 ERA over 180 starts.

How Duffy copes

Duffy, who won the World Series with the Royals in 2015, told the Star he had his first panic attack at the age of 13. Later he learned that running became his therapy, telling McDowell “[I] just wanted to feel like Rocky, bro.”

When he returned to the Royals, he continued the practice and days after his return he clocked 26.8 miles in more than 14 hours. He said he still goes to therapy and his escapes are more out of habit than necessity. He’s only had three panic attacks this year. He’s accepted himself, he said, “quirks and all.”

“The biggest thing I’ve learned in therapy, and it sounds cliche, is you can’t go wrong by being yourself. It’s a deeper statement than it sounds. You never ever fail yourself if you act as who you are. We were made this way for a reason. It takes a certain level of confidence to do that. I didn’t have that confidence.”

Duffy joins a growing, yet still small, group of athletes who have spoken out about mental health challenges. Fellow pitcher Zack Greinke left the game in 2006 and when he unexpectedly returned, he announced he deals with a social anxiety disorder.

Cleveland Cavaliers all-star Kevin Love spoke honestly about his panic attacks in a 2018 piece for The Player’s Tribune. It sparked others to come forward with their own stories and this month Love led a conversation on it for an episode of LeBron James’ HBO show “The Shop.”

Las Vegas Aces star Liz Cambage penned her own piece for The Player’s Tribune this summer titled “DNP-Mental Health” after she missed games due to an anxiety attack after the All-Star break.

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy said he was bullied in the clubhouse as a rookie. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy said he was bullied in the clubhouse as a rookie. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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