Austin Meadow had unpacked his bags at spring training. He stood in front of his locker looking stronger and refreshed after an offseason that served as a return to equilibrium in the aftermath of a difficult year. You could hear a tone of optimism in his voice.
Meadows wanted to get back to himself, to get on the field and play like the guy who made the All-Star Game back in 2019. Last summer, after a well-documented series of injuries and ailments, Meadows stepped away from baseball to focus on his mental health.
“Having an offseason to kind of reset mentally and physically after going through everything I went through, I learned a lot from it,” Meadows said in February. “I’m excited to get back out there and take what I learned and be me again.”
Meadows talked in relative terms about his mental health journey and his growth. He mentioned having a team of therapists. He raved about the birth of his daughter over the offseason. He was laughing and enjoying having his younger brother, Parker, play in the same outfield with him during spring training. It would have been easy to think the struggles of last year were behind him.
But things aren’t always so simple in real life.
“It’s constant work,” Meadows said this spring. “I think anyone who’s going through something would say that. I have a good team of people who have helped me learn certain things and learn how to handle certain situations that might pop up.”
Meadows stepped away from the Tigers again Saturday to focus on his mental health. He was in the Tigers’ lineup Saturday afternoon but scratched less than an hour before game time. The Tigers officially placed him on the 10-day injured list with anxiety.
Scott Harris, the team’s president of baseball operations, issued the following statement:
“The Tigers fully support Austin’s decision to step away from the team and prioritize his mental health. As an organization, we have taken many steps to provide and destigmatize mental health resources, and we will do more to help our players tackle the mental and physical challenges they face on a daily basis. We commend Austin for confronting these challenges head-on and ask our fans to join us in supporting him through every step of his journey back to the field.”
After Saturday’s game, manager A.J. Hinch began his press conference with his own words on Meadows but declined to take further questions about the situation.
“We’re thinking of him, fully supporting him and hoping for better times for him,” Hinch said. “That, combined with (Harris’) statement, is all we want to share at this point.”
The Tigers replaced Meadows on the roster with outfielder Akil Baddoo, who went 3-for-4 Friday night in Omaha for Triple-A Toledo. Baddoo said he found out shortly after the game he was likely getting recalled to the big leagues.
“They told me I was coming up to Detroit, so just waiting for the call, just to be ready,” Baddoo said.
Baddoo said he woke up at 4:30 a.m. and got on a flight out of Omaha, getting to Detroit around 7:30 a.m. He had to drive across the Ohio border and get his things before heading to Comerica Park.
It’s unclear why Meadows was listed on the Tigers’ original lineup released Saturday afternoon.
“Akil got here for the game,” Hinch said. “I don’t want to talk about the Austin situation right now. Akil got here for the game and obviously was in the lineup.”
The Tigers, by all accounts, have been supportive of Meadows over the past year. They have worked to provide better mental health resources for players throughout the organization.
After acquiring Meadows via trade from the Rays before the 2022 season, he played only 36 games for the Tigers last season.
“I’m super proud of him,” Hinch said in spring training. “I continue to say that about how forward-facing he’s been with his experiences over the last 12 months … We’re here to support him. We’re going to build a really good support system for him and all of our players. His journey has been unique, and he’s handled it very, very well.”
While we don’t know how long Meadows might be away, we do get another reminder athletes are humans, just like the rest of us.
“We’re always cheering for him, and we want him to be here with us,” Tigers catcher Jake Rogers said. “It sucks for him, and we’re going to be here for him whenever he needs us to be.”
(Top photo: Katelyn Mulcahy / Getty Images)