ARLINGTON -- After making his first appearance of the season on April 2 at Marlins Park, Rays left-hander Ryan Sherriff said, he realized he “needed to put myself before baseball.” He decided immediately to step away from the game, going on Tampa Bay’s restricted list and taking two weeks to focus on his mental health.
Now, Sherriff is back with the Rays. The lefty was recalled from Triple-A Durham on Friday, pitched a perfect eighth inning in Tampa Bay’s 5-4 loss to Texas on Friday night and spoke to local media on Saturday for the first time since his break from baseball. More importantly, he says he feels great now.
“I just felt like I was in an extremely dark place, and I felt as if it wasn't fair to my teammates to continue being there if I wasn't mentally there,” Sherriff said. “I'm glad that I took those two weeks to get my mind right, and to focus on myself and learn how to have fun again.”
Sherriff said he benefitted from being by himself, getting away from the stressors of the game and removing the pressure he’d put on himself. He also credited his mother and aunt, his agent and friends and the Rays for their support.
“They've all shined the light on me and supported any decision that I wanted to make. I just think that I just needed a little bit of a break,” Sherriff said. “Going through all the COVID stuff and the isolations and all of that, I just needed some time away to get my life together.
“I think I'm going to have to deal with this for the rest of my life. But I'm glad that I have a great foundation where to start from. The Rays have been nothing but a great support to me. They have helped me so much throughout this process, and I couldn't do this without them.”
Sherriff acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting health-and-safety protocols, isolations and other dramatic changes to daily life were “just a trigger on everything that I’ve been dealing with throughout my entire life.” He said the Rays offer phenomenal resources with their mental performance team, psychologists and more, and he hopes that other organizations follow suit.
Sherriff also hopes to be an advocate for the importance of addressing mental health issues in baseball, one reason he told his story first to Sports Illustrated on April 20. Since that article was published, Sherriff said, he has heard directly from fellow big leaguers who had similar experiences. In that way, he has already started an important and necessary conversation.
“I just think it’s super important to me, because I’m living it every single day,” Sherriff said. “I’m not alone, and they’re not alone. And if I can do anything to help them, whether it’s just listening, I would love to do that.”