Sports & Activities

A Giant Accomplishment

Since major-league baseball pitcher Scott Eyre announced his ADHD diagnosis in 2001, he’s turned around his life and inspired countless young athletes.

Baseball Pitcher Scott Eyre is an ADHD role model
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Lots of major league pitchers fidget on the mound, spending a few seconds playing with the lip of their hat, fluffing the rosin bag, and smacking the ball into their glove. But San Francisco Giants left-hander Scott Eyre took it to extremes when he was with the Toronto Blue Jays, scratching, spitting, kicking the dirt, rubbing his forehead, pulling at his uniform, and yanking at his hat between pitches.

Team therapist Tim Hewes took notice. Eyre couldn’t sit still in the dugout, he’d drift off on the mound and listen to the crowd or watch soaring airplanes instead of bearing down on the batter. Hewes asked Eyre if he had heard of ADHD. He explained that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was a common and treatable neurobehavioral disorder marked by inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.

Still, it wasn’t quite a eureka moment for Eyre – not yet. That came the following season, in 2001, during a game against the New York Yankees. “I was on the mound and the catcher came out to talk to me, and when he walked away, I got distracted by the crowd and couldn’t remember a word he said,” Eyre said. “Suddenly I felt totally confused – I had no idea what I was doing.” Shaken, Eyre consulted a psychiatrist who confirmed Hewes’s suspicions.

Last year, 31-year-old Eyre worked out of the bullpen during the Giants’ National League Division Series against the Florida Marlins – but he wasn’t fidgeting. He is one of the first professional athletes, or public figures of any sort, to step into the limelight with a diagnosis of ADHD. Others who have done so include Christopher Knight, who played “Peter” on The Brady Bunch, and David Neeleman, founder and chief executive officer of JetBlue Airways.

A Model for Others

Research has shown us that ADHD persists into adulthood for up to 70% of those who have it as kids. According to the latest figures from the American Psychiatric Association, 3 to 7% of school-aged children and 4% of adults – men and women – have the disorder.

Those who live with ADHD know that stimulant drugs such as Ritalin, Concerta, and Adderall help control symptoms. Small behavior changes, like using an electronic organizer, making to-do-lists, and writing reminders on sticky notes, can counteract tendencies to be disorganized and bring some order and measure of control to life. Plus, ADHD coaches call clients regularly to remind them to complete tasks.

But for many, the first step toward help is diagnosing the problem.

“A lot of people have been driven to seek treatment because of the people they see on TV who say, ‘I’m successful now, but I have this vulnerability. Let me tell you what I went through,'” says David W. Goodman, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. “Eyre stands to make a very big difference for people.”

Now, more than two years after that panicky moment on the mound against the Yankees, Eyre has turned his career around. He takes Concerta daily and works hard to stay organized. Eyre says he can focus, multitask, and listen when others are speaking, retaining what they have said – all new skills for him. A wall has come down and now he’s able to be the player he feels he was meant to be.

“I can think about a pitch and also cover first base now,” Eyre says. “I can stand on the mound and not hear the 40,000 people screaming.”

In the summer of 2002, Eyre was claimed off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays. With the Giants, he has become a valued left-handed setup reliever, pitching in 10 of the team’s 17 playoff games last year, including three in the World Series, all the while giving up no earned runs.

Formerly a guy who talked nonstop and made coaches and teammates irritated and nervous, a guy who was described by a former teammate Dan Plesac, now a Philadelphia Phillie, as being “a 33 record playing on 45 speed,” he’s now calm, collected. His manager, Felipe Alou, puts him into a game to right things when they are at their most chaotic and tense – and when the outcome is on the line.

Since Eyre has gone public, a few other major league baseball players have come forth to say they have battled ADHD, too. Among them are Blue Jays relief pitcher Justin Miller and Giants reliever Matt Herges. Herges, formerly of the Pittsburgh Pirates, went for a diagnosis after speaking with another player who had it.

“He told me all his symptoms and I said, ‘Holy cow, that’s me,'” Herges says. Since beginning drug therapy with Adderall early in the season last year, Herges is no longer out on the mound thinking about matters like the conversation taking place between fans sitting near the dugout or whether his wife’s stadium seat is exposing her to the rain. Now he can think about the task at hand. His ERA last year was 2.62, down from 4.06 the season before. “Now, I’m a loaded gun,” Herges says.

Strategies for Baseball – and Life

Eyre bought a Palm Pilot, leaves himself sticky notes, and takes his medicine every day before his games. It’s become one of his superstitions, along with wearing the same socks with his uniform and not leaving the locker room for the bullpen until the first inning is under way. Not only has his pitching improved, but he no longer forgets to leave promised complimentary tickets at the ticket window for friends and acquaintances, something he did frequently before his diagnosis and treatment.

“It’s one of the most embarrassing things there is,” Eyre admits.

Eyre says he’s grateful to Blue Jays therapist Hewes and the psychiatrist who diagnosed the disorder. “They basically changed my baseball career,” he said.

Dr. Goodman at Johns Hopkins reminds us that it’s usually a parent, spouse, coworker, or boss who is first to pick up on a person’s attention issues. They may notice a pattern of disorganization, procrastination, or failure to complete tasks. Or it may be quirky habits, trouble waiting in line, showing up on time, or not letting others finish a sentence.

Before he was diagnosed, Eyre’s wife, Laura, sensed something was amiss. “It was hard for him to carry on a conversation without getting distracted,” she says. “He’d think of something else and just not hear the rest of what you were saying. Then he’d cut in and tell his story. If the kids interrupted him, he’d be unable to remember what he had been talking about.” Now, he listens well, she says, and is much easier to talk to. He’s also much more patient with his children, Caleb, 5, and Jacob, 3.

Parents approach Eyre after games nowadays and send letters thanking him for speaking of his struggle with his own chemistry. Because of Eyre, they tell him, their kids aren’t afraid to admit they have ADHD, and are no longer loath to take their medicine.

“If I had one wish, I’d wish I could go back to high school and take my medication every day,” Eyre says. “I could have accomplished so much more. But the more I learn now, the more I can get out to parents.”

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