Former MLB pitcher opens up about struggle with addiction

February 26, 2014

Addiction treatment centers are sometimes glorified in the media as bastions where the rich and elite can wash away the mistakes of their pasts, but in reality, the counselors at most centers focus on helping those who have struggled with substance regain control over their lives and respect for themselves. People in recovery aren’t seeking to cover up the choices that led them to addiction. It can be a long, difficult but ultimately rewarding process of renewed accountability and self-respect.

That is the journey that former Major League Baseball pitcher Dirk Hayhurst has already completed. A former reliever for several years in the minor leagues and two with the San Diego Padres and the Toronto Blue Jays, Hayhurst now works as a TV commentator for the Jays. Despite the popular opinion that most of those in recovery wanting to gloss over the details of their troubled past, Hayhurst has written a trilogy of memoirs that chronicle his journey through the ranks of semi-professionals baseball and culminate with his most personal book – “Bigger Than The Game” – which tells the story of his addiction to alcohol and painkillers. According to Hayhurst, telling his story is an attempt to not only humanize the struggles of professional athletes, but those who have struggled with addiction as well.

A wrong turn

Hayhurst played baseball all of his life, including through college and spent several years honing his skills in the minor leagues. It wasn’t until 2008, according to Baseball Almanac, that Hayhurst was given the chance to showcase his skills in the MLB. He was signed to a one-year deal by San Diego at 27 and then signed with Toronto a year later in 2009.

Unfortunately for Hayhurst, a combination of arm injuries and roster moves forced him onto the disabled list after only 15 appearances for Toronto. At the age of 28 and with a half-a-million dollar contract, Hayhurst told the Toronto Star that a combination of depression, alcohol abuse and prescription pill addiction put his baseball career on hold.

“It was this dream come true, or at least it was supposed to be this dream come true and it was a nightmare,” Hayhurst said.

Hayhurst described living with depression while maintaining the image of a high-profile public athlete. While he thought playing baseball professionally was a dream of his, the depression would not allow him to enjoy a second of it.

“In some respects my dream came true and I was like, ‘This is a bad dream,” he told the Star.

Living in recovery

After a year abusing alcohol and prescription pills as he sat idle on the disabled list, Hayhurst got sober and began writing a series of books about his experience. Rather than a publicity stunt, Hayhurst said that coming clean about his addiction as a professional athlete was meant to shed light on the basic fact that athletes are still human beings, no matter the circumstances.

“Fame and money is kind of the pinnacle of success in our society, so how dare you be depressed when you have that which we all long to possess, which is athletic fame and fortune, supposedly,” Hayhurst explained to the Star. “So I felt like I had to tell this story, I had to humanize it.”

The former pitcher admitted that he deals with after effects of his addiction and depression today, but that it’s part of the recovery process. He realized that while his body may crave drugs and alcohol, his mind knows that he’s making the right choice.

“It’s hard, but it’s a much better alternative than downing a fifth of Jim Beam and, like, five sleeping pills and then passing out for 16 hours,” Hayhurst explained.

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