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Torres triumphs while battling ADHD

Outfielder prospers with Mets despite facing disability

Imagine stepping into the batter's box to face some hotshot equipped with a 95-mph fastball and a cutter that drops like a rock. And as you step in to study the pitcher and prepare for your at-bat, there's a hockey game going on in your brain.

That's what it's like for players with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Before his condition was diagnosed, that's what it was like for outfielder Andres Torres of the New York Mets.

"I was all over the place," Torres said. "I had 10 things going on in my head all the time. I couldn't focus. Baseball is about concentration."

Torres' condition was discovered when he was with the Detroit Tigers. Born in New Jersey but raised in Puerto Rico, he had signed as a non-drafted free agent in 1998 and drifted through the Tigers' Minor League network for six years. There were three brief stays at the big league level before he was released in 2004, with a bit of advice to be checked out.

"One of the coaches noticed it," Torres said. "I was missing signs. My focus wasn't there. I was so hyper. I wasn't paying attention to stuff. My head was going everywhere."

He was diagnosed at age 18 but initially ignored the medication.

"I thought, 'I don't have to take medication. I am so good, I don't need it,'" he said.

He bounced around the White Sox, Rangers and Twins organizations for the next few years before returning to the Tigers in 2007. After another season in the Cubs organization, he was signed by the Giants in 2008. By then, Torres had become more serious about his situation and was able to gain some control over the ADHD, although it is a daily battle for him.

Torres made his first Opening Day roster with the Giants in 2009, a dozen years after signing his first professional contract and after more than 1,000 games in the Minor Leagues. A year later, he helped the Giants win their first World Series since 1954, delivering seven hits in the League Championship Series against Philadelphia and seven more, including a home run, in the World Series against Texas.

All this with a neurological condition that makes playing baseball an enormous challenge.

"I have that ring," Torres said with considerable pride. "That is so important to me."

Will Chang, a part-owner of the Giants, became close with Torres during the outfielder's time in San Francisco and helped get a film made about his life and his daily battle with ADHD. The movie, "Gigante," was screened at the NYU Langone Medical Center in May.

Torres' regimen requires one pill a day and careful attention to diet. There are no quarter-pounders or loaded nachos with the works on his menu.

"Sometimes the medication works, sometimes it doesn't. I am careful about what I eat," he said. "I eat organic foods, natural stuff. I believe in natural foods."

He knows ADHD is a daily challenge, not only to him but for people around him.

"We are different," Torres said. "You want to slow down, but sometimes you can't. You have so many things going on in your head. Your head never stops. We can upset people because of the way we are.

"There are grades of this condition. Mine is really high. Millions of people have it. We are the way we are. You deal with it."

Once his ADHD was diagnosed and a level of medication began to control it, it was like a new day for Torres. He knows there is no overnight solution to his situation.

"People need to understand this condition," he said. "We need to educate the public."

Torres was traded to the Mets last December; another new beginning for him, another chance for him to explain to people what it's like to play baseball with ADHD.

Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.