Royals don 'Together as One' tees, wear mental health support on sleeves

May 26th, 2024
Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. shows his support for mental health awareness.Credit: Jason Hanna/Royals

This story was excerpted from Anne Rogers’ Royals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Last May, the Royals debuted a T-shirt for players with the theme, “progress over perfection” as part of Mental Health Awareness Month, hoping to raise awareness for mental health challenges that are increasing among adults and children worldwide.

This year, the Royals have a new T-shirt with a new theme -- and are hoping to make more of an impact in the community with it.

During batting practice earlier this week at Kauffman Stadium, the Royals wore this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month T-shirt with the theme of “Together as One.” Created with input from the players and made by Charlie Hustle, a Kansas City retail company, the shirt highlights a message manager Matt Quatraro emphasized in a team meeting held before the very first full-squad workout at Spring Training this year: You should “pull for each other’s success more than your own.” Basically, when the Royals win, they win together; and when they lose, they lose together.

Royals manager Matt Quatraro wears the 'Together as One' T-shirt during pregame warmup drills.Credit: Jason Hanna/Royals

With as close of a clubhouse as the Royals have this year, Quatraro’s message has been brought up by players in hitters' and pitchers' meetings throughout the year. That support has been one of the reasons, several have pointed out, that the Royals have been able to bounce back from losses or tough individual outings.

“You talk about the pressure that comes with baseball and the stigma that comes with mental health, people often feel like they’re alone,” Royals director of behavioral science/Major League mental performance Melissa Lambert said. “We want them to understand that we’re all going through things, and whether it’s on the field or off the field, you have a community that can help support you.

“Oftentimes, especially with players, when you have a bad outing or are in a slump, you can feel like you’re isolated. And then you add in fan disappointment and what people say on social media. But when you have your teammates picking you up, which we’ve noticed big time this year, it makes it a lot easier. I would say that’s a strength of our team. That’s been noticed a lot more this year.”

Royals director of behavioral science/Major League mental performance Melissa Lambert models the 'Together as One' T-shirt.Credit: Jason Hanna/Royals

What’s new this year thanks to collaboration between the Royals’ business and baseball operations: The shirts are available for sale at Kauffman Stadium in the main team store and the fountain team store in left-center field.

Part of the proceeds will be donated to Synergy Services to use toward combating youth mental health challenges, and The Kansas City Royals Foundation will match the net proceeds from shirt sales.

“A big part of this is, ‘How do we move the needle to actually have an impact?’” Lambert said. “We had great publicity through the T-shirt last year, so can we take it to the next step?”

And by selling the shirts and seeing fans wear them around town and to the ballpark, the Royals not only hope to raise funds for local youth mental health, but also hope the message extends outside of their clubhouse.

“That there’s support at every turn, especially within the organization, but for people outside the organization, when you feel alone, you really aren’t,” Quatraro said.

The behavioral science department also held a two-day mental health first aid training earlier this week for business and baseball operations, including any Major League coaches who wanted to join. Instead of bringing in outside consultants to run the training, the program was taught entirely by Royals licensed psychologists who are trained as mental health first aid instructors.

“That’s something that’s unique to us, something we’re really proud of, and we have a lot of support from ownership on down to do it,” senior director of behavioral science Ryan Maid said.

A blended course with two hours online and 5 1/2 hours in person, the program is an evidence-based, early-intervention course that teaches the public how to identify, understand and respond to signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges in adults ages 18 and over.

“The goal is to go through common mental health challenges human beings can have and educate people on what they are, how to recognize them as early as possible and what to do with them should you recognize them in the workplace,” Maid said. “The literacy part is about understanding mental health diagnoses, symptoms, what they are and what they mean and how they impact your functioning day to day.

“We know that becoming literate and having education on mental health first aid is a good protective factor for mental health related issues.”

Royals starter Alec Marsh plays catch in the outfield prior to a recent game.Credit: Jason Hanna/Royals

The Royals had 60 slots available earlier this week, and they plan on hosting more in the fall. They also hope to open it up to players throughout the organization in the coming years.

Because of support from ownership to the front office, Maid’s department is growing -- from a personnel standpoint to its impact.

“The longer you get into this and the more you deal with players, the more you realize that they’re dealing with so much more than just baseball,” assistant general manager Scott Sharp said. “We’ve become much more aware of the mental aspects of the game, whether it’s anxiety or certain stress levels. You can’t just expect these guys to show up and perform at a high level without giving them physical support, coaching support and mental support.”

According to Maid and Lambert, studies show that individuals trained in adult mental health first aid increase mental health literacy, improve professional and self-help resources for those with a mental health challenge, increase confidence and likelihood of helping an individual in distress, reduce stigma and increase empathy toward individuals with mental health challenges. It also increases the likelihood to seek therapy or mental health care for the individuals being trained.

To learn more about mental health first aid, find a course or become an instructor, click here.

Highlighting mental health awareness in May is just one step, but the Royals are determined to increase initiatives like these throughout the year.

“Mental health and the need for support is a year-round thing -- it’s not just in May,” Lambert said.

“I think our organization understands that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Maid added. “They’ve devoted resources to the behavioral science department, not only with early identification but also educating our entire organization. It’s been fantastic, and we’re going to continue to grow this throughout the upcoming year. It’s exciting to see it take shape.”