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Remember, It's Just A Game

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As much as we want our teams to win it all, we must remember it's just a game.

Do it, he thought. Just do it already, and be at peace. As the clock struck midnight on April 30, 2009, Ian Snell, the onetime ace of the Pirates, was still brooding in the shower of his apartment outside Pittsburgh. Hours had passed since he'd arrived home from an afternoon game in Milwaukee, an agonizing 1--0 loss in which he'd thrown 131 pitches in seven innings, a career high, but yielded the game-winning home run to opposing starter Yovani Gallardo. Now, standing beneath the spray of hot water—his body exhausted but his pulse racing—the 27-year-old Snell wanted to end his life.

Sports Illustrated, June 21, 2010

Ian Snell thought about ending his life over a game. So did Milton Bradley. In fact, there are more and more players who continue to hit the disabled list with depression and anxiety. In today's sports world it can be hard to remember sometimes -- with all of the money, the competitiveness and the push for championships -- that baseball is, after all, just a game. 

As Brendan Harris strikes out looking in the midst of a career-worst slump, he holds his bat in one hand and his helmet in the other. Harris stands there in disgust, with a look on his face that says, "When will it end?" He hadn't gotten a hit in nine straight games at this point, a span of 20 straight at-bats. 

Harris has never been an All-Star hitter, but since getting regular at-bats in 2007, he's posted batting averages of .261, .265 and .286, numbers that are certainly serviceable. Players have always heard boos, but today there are even more means of feeling the heat with Twitter, blogs and several other forms of opinion-sharing from fans. 

In writing recently, Harris expressed some of his feelings:

I attended Justin Morneau’s charity event and received the typical condolences, including "keep plugging away" and "keep your chin up". I’m sure if there had been an open bar a few people would have grabbed some of the bats up for auction and given demonstrations.

It’s been quite a grind so far this year but I’m still plugging away and feel like I’m ready to break out the next time I get an opportunity. It’s frustrating at times but the club is in first place and that’s what its all about. There’s an oft repeated quote from Samuel Goldwyn, "The harder I work, the luckier I get," and no ones been working harder, so there better be some bloopers and infield hits on the horizon, as well as some line drives.

I'm not meaning to imply that Harris is depressed or that he's reached the sad and devastating state that some players have gone through. But in this story, with everything we know about the anxiety of a professional athlete, there are things people must remember. 

This season, Harris is earning nearly $1.5 million as a member of the organization, a number that, according to the Wall Street Journal, places him in the top 0.1% of income groups in the United States. That doesn't make Harris, or any other athlete for that matter, any less human. 

Sure the team, fans and even Harris himself would like and expect to have better production, but for some players there are times, and Harris is experiencing that now, when things just don't go right. In these instances both fans and writers must remain respectful. There is a difference between analyzing a player and his performance and ripping a player apart because of poor production. 

As Ian Snell thought about ending his life, there were some words that seemed to save him:

"Your family loves you and is always here for you. If you need me there, I'll be there." And he reminded Snell of an essential truth: "Baseball is just a job."

Baseball is just a job, but a high-profile one that has millions of people watching intently. Harris and hundreds of other baseball players go to work each day, and at times they fail to produce just like common employees. When production isn't there, those in the workforce aren't thrown hateful remarks and ripped apart, and Harris and others shouldn't be either.  

[Hat Tip: Oh, It's THOSE Girls]

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.