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Benzos and baseball

Intramural baseball is not Major League baseball, I get that. But some universities offer intramural baseball as an option to those that want to partake. It has the same feel. It's the same game. And unlike professional baseball, there is even more of an appreciation when a 31 year old steps onto the field to play baseball. That's right, everyone. Not softball. You aren't standing in the batter's box to hit an obnoxiously large ball, being almost handed to you by the pitcher. You are facing live arms - albeit somewhat rusty arms depending on how far removed from high school they are. Fastballs are coming in around 80 mph. Each pitcher has an off-speed pitch, whether it's good or not is another story. But the sliders that were thrown seemed legit, at least at the level we were playing at.

Now, I am a patient hitter. I wasn't in high school, but things change. I embraced Sabermetrics and have watched a ton of Red Sox baseball over the past 12 years. I wasn't about to swing at the first pitch, no matter how hittable it was. No matter if the bases were loaded, game on the line, and I was a well-placed out away from winning the game. I just wasn't going to do it. Rarely in this league did we ever face a pitcher for the second time in a game. Everyone's arms grew tired after just a few innings, given that they were out of baseball shape. And our teams lineup -- which was truly horrendous -- took a very long time to get a hitter his second at bat as it was. So approach it like this: You have never, ever seen the pitcher you are facing. So my instinct was to take take take. And so I did.

As an experiment during one of our 3 or 4 games (forfeits happen more often than one would like in university IM sports), I took 1 mg of prescribed Klonopin before one of our games. Klonopin, if you are not familiar, is a benzodiazepine, in the same class of Xanax or Valium. It's an anti-anxiety, but with a longer half-life than the two previously mentioned "benzos." Basically it lasts longer, but also takes longer to kick in. 1 mg of Klonopin is actually very little. Someone addicted to these pills would feel practically nothing from such a small dosage. But I wasn't addicted. So it calmed me a little. Not a lot. Just enough

So prior to the game; prior to warm-ups. I threw the blue pill, with a semi-sweet coating into my mouth and sucked on it to try and absorb it into my body more quickly, since game time wasn't too far away.

The team and I went through our warm-up preparations, which at the intramural level mainly consisted of warming up our arms only. Maybe tossing a few ground balls or pop-ups to our throwing partner.

Simply put, there wasn't a ton of time to get loose in between games. Each team had about 15 minutes to prepare for the relatively meaningless, yet very meaningful game (Depending on the party).

So the captains met with the umpires, the lineups were submitted. I was batting 5th even though I was the best hitter on the team. Which means I should have either been batting third (based on the old-school way of thinking) or second (based on the new-school infatuation).

Our pitcher, who was terrible, took the mound, threw a few warm-up pitches and six runs later our lead-off hitter stepped to the plate. I can't remember the exact result. He probably struck out as, no joke, our lineup struck out more often than anything else. We were terrible. We had probably four players that could even put a bat on the ball, and one of the players due to other obligations only showed up for, I think, a single game.

Eventually, after our opponent scored several more runs in the second inning, putting the the game out of reach (even though 6-0 had been out of reach as it was), I finally stepped into the batter's box, passing my teammate who had just swung and missed three times. Maybe four times, as that's how bad we were.

I put my left foot into the dirt, went through my routine of twirling the bat a few times, and other eccentric movements that let the pitcher know that I was, in fact, human. And in fact, getting ready to face him.

While all these batter eccentricities were going on with my body, my mind was as calm as could be without having passed out on the bedroom floor. I was as calm as a metaphor describing the act of being calm. I wasn't worried about being down 0-1 if the pitcher threw a first-pitch strike. I wasn't worried about the pitcher brushing me back -- in particular because this was very unlikely to happen in intramural baseball. Intentionally, at least.

The pitcher went into his wind-up, since the stretch rarely existed from any opposing pitchers we faced. He fired the ball in. A fastball. "Strike one!" I did not care. My mind was the definition of serenity now (no insanity later). The catcher tossed the baseball back, the pitcher took the rubber, repeat. Fastball high. The count was 1-1. Definitely a better count to work with than 0-1, for obvious reasons. The third pitch was another fastball, another strike. Now the count was clearly in the amateur pitchers favor. Not only in the back of my mind was I thinking breaking-ball, but in the front of my mind as well. This isn't Major-League baseball. My theory was that these intramural pitchers weren't going to throw any pitch in any count. And even if I did see another fastball, it's not like he could blow me away with it. I had a decent chance of keeping the at bat alive, or possibly putting it in play.

1-2 count, the pitcher comes away with a slider. My nervousness had resided with the Klonopin's entry into my blood-stream, yet I still checked my swing. But that was probably more due to the fact that I hadn't seen anything other than batting cage fastballs and wiffle balls for the past 13 years of my life. The slider was called a ball, evening up the count, as I clearly did not go around, giving myself more of an opportunity to see a fastball on the next pitch. And that I did. Fastball outside. 3-2 count. One pitch away from failing or succeeding, with the exception of a foul ball, nitpickers.

The random University of Central Florida student started home with the pitch...I made fairly weak contact and hit a routine ground-ball to the shortstop.

But point being, my approach was fine. The process was fine. The result -- an out -- was just a result that baseball players have to deal with more often than not.

But I wondered. I was calm throughout the at bat. I was calm throughout the game. Did the Klonopin help my approach? I was a patient hitter in the other intramural games I played in as well, without the drug. But I seemed even less reluctant to swing at a bad pitch with the prescribed benzo running through my system.

And this experience has led me to wonder, how could small doses of benzodiazepines effect a baseball players ability to play the game. Thousands of screaming fans cheering on a batter in the bottom of the 9th with 2nd and third occupied, two outs, down a run. Would a player benefit from not feeling the anxiety? Is this more prevalent in baseball than maybe we already think it is? Are beta-blockers and anti-anxiety benzos a part of baseball that no one talks seems to talk about?

Let's use a player as an example. Not because the player has any ties to any drug. I am using him simply for his skill-set. The player is Alfonso Soriano. The reason I chose Soriano is because he is notorious for chasing sliders away and out of the strike zone.

In theory, an amphetamine might help his pitch-recognition, giving him an edge and ultimately allowing him to lay off the pitch. But that is just conjecture, as is the benzo theory I am touching up on now.

If Soriano were to take a milligram or two of Xanax or Klonopin, could it decrease any anxiety he may have, making him more passive, therefore less likely to swing at a slider outside of the strike zone? Increasing his effectivenss as a hitter? And would the same supposed benefit also make him more susceptible to strikes in the zone since he has now become more passive? He might lay off the slider, but would he also be more likely to lay off the fastball for a strike, since the anxiety is not as present.

Look, I am no doctor, but I feel that there is good anxiety and bad anxiety. Good anxiety can almost be described as "motivation." That feeling that if you don't do something, then a negative will follow. And then there is bad anxiety, the kind that keeps you in your room with the shades down, eliminating yourself from society, from interaction, from failure.

I don't know the answers. All I know is that on that given day, I took 1 mg of Klonopin and I felt like I was a better baseball player. I felt like if I were up with the game on the line, that I would be better equipped to handle the pressures of the situation. Better equipped to come succeed.

I theorize, that is all.

But I wonder the percentage of players who are written benzodiazepine prescriptions. And I wonder -- even though I'll never know -- how many of them use it because they actually need it, or because they want to be calm with a stadium full of fans cheering them on, with the bases loaded in ninth inning of game 7.


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