Dirk Hayhurst Cements His Baseball Legacy with "Bigger Than the Game"

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Dirk Hayhurst Cements His Baseball Legacy with
Elsa/Getty Images

After releasing two New York Times best selling books—The Bullpen Gospels and Out of My League—and one ebook, Wild Pitches, former big leaguer Hayhurst Hayhurst is back with his third book entitled, Bigger Than the Game. The book hit shelves Tuesday, but I had the opportunity to read and review it before hand, and it exceeds all expectations.

For those unfamiliar with Hayhurst, here's a quick rundown on who he is.

Hayhurst is a 32-year-old Ohio native and a former major league pitcher having spent time with three organizations—those being San Diego, Toronto and Tampa Bay. You may overlook Hayhurst in a statistical analysis, but his contributions to the game of baseball reach far beyond those of on-field performance.

Aside from the various books, Hayhurst has written for Baseball America, The Canton Repository and Bleacher Report, while also maintaining his own personal blog. Additionally, Hayhurst worked the last two seasons as a broadcaster and analyst for the Toronto Blue Jays, while also making appearances on the Olberman Show and on TBS as a postseason panelist during the 2013 MLB Playoffs.

According to his official bio, "Dirk started recording his minor league adventures in 2007 in the belief that if he didn’t make it to the big leagues, at least he could write down some of the life experiences he had while trying to get there."

 

Hayhurst turned those recordings into his first book, The Bullpen Gospels. Hayhurst's second book, Out of My League, chronicled his first 40 days and nights as a big-league rookie.

Dirkhayhurst.com

His third book, Bigger than the Game, may be his greatest attempt yet to show the world what life at the highest level is truly like. As per usual, Hayhurst ranges from the serious, to the hilarious, as he delves into some dark topics including addiction, depression, injury and the arduous task of rehabbing in order to get back to the game he loves.

The book picks up immediately following a 2009 season in which Hayhurst made some major strides on the mound. Over 15 appearances that season, then a 28-year-old, worked to a 2.78 ERA and a 161 ERA+.

Naturally, Hayhurst looked to improve upon that season. Unfortunately, his quest for improvement was met with a major roadblock after hearing a "pop" in his shoulder during an impromptu workout session—a session that his trainer had advocated against early on in their work together.

The consequences of this session proved major and, after trying to hide the injury early on, Hayhurst and the Jays eventually decided surgery was the best option.

From there, the book takes a dark turn as Hayhurst is tasked with rehabbing his surgically repaired shoulder at spring training while isolated from his wife—who stayed behind in Ohio—and also from his team.

It's rare to get an insider's perspective on things like injury and rehab, but Hayhurst takes it a step further dealing with topics like addiction—specifically addressing alcohol and prescription drug abuse—and depression.

Hayhurst details his own battle with painkillers and sleeping pills, which he routinely washed down with a six-pack of Yuengling. This, in turn, would further isolate him from both his family and his team—which already had issues with him for his writing from the clubhouse.

We see these topics make their way into the media on occasion.

Back in 2009, Miguel Cabrera began a public battle with alcoholism with numerous headline-worthy incidents including an altercation with his wife, a three-month stint in a rehab facility, a near-physical altercation at a Florida restaurant and a 2011 DUI charge

David Goldman/Associated Press/Associated Press

One of Hayhurst's former minor league teammates, Matt Bush, suffered through a very public battle with alcoholism. After three DUIs, the former No. 1 overall pick was sentenced to four years and three months in prison after a drunk driving accident in which he hit a 72-year-old man's motorcycle and then fled the scene—per FoxSports.com.

Although we have these examples to look to, the athletes who deal with them rarely open up and share their inner thoughts on addiction. In fact, even when their issues turn into larger problems—e.g. domestic assault, DUI and death threats in the case of Cabrera—you're only two MVPs and a Triple Crown away from erasing all the negativity surrounding your personal life.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Unlike these athletes, Hayhurst shares his battle with addiction, including his subsequent refusal to use pills as a coping mechanism during his phone-in therapy sessions with the Jays' team doctor.

Performance on the playing field tends to wash away a whole slew of off-field negativity and, for fringe-roster guys and minor leaguers, this is a major problem.

Hayhurst also explores the inferiority complex surrounding professional baseball players—and athletes in general—and their unwillingness to address their shortcomings. After re-injuring his throwing arm, Hayhurst sought the help of the Jays' therapist Ray Karesky in an attempt to help him deal with his battles against addiction and depression.

His talks with the team therapist clue us in to this larger issue. When asked if he had Hayhurst's permission to share their conversations with general manager Alex Anthopoulos, Hayhurst replied, "What? I thought I was telling you all this in confidence. I don't want Alex to know I've been eating sleeping pills and painkillers to get through my days. F--k no, you don't have my permission!"

Hayhurst eventually opens up to Karesky, but he notes that a lot of players are unwilling to do the same, in fear of being labeled broken or damaged goods.

This same feeling explains why a lot of Hayhurst's teammates feared his being a writer. As you'll see shortly, Hayhurst is a firm believer in the idea that baseball players—and professional athletes in general—fear being seen as anything less than superhuman.

To some extent, this is true of everyone. That's why this book has staying power, and its' lasting quality is its' relatability. While Hayhurst's stories are those of a big league pitcher, most of them—especially the ones dealing with addiction and depression—could have been the stories of your neighbor, family member or childhood friend.

Hayhurst does a masterful job of coupling these dark topics with hilarious stories regarding his rehab at the Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopedic Center, his home life and WWE icon Triple H. In short, there's no sustained downtime in Bigger Than the Game and even its' "dull" moments—if you want to call them that—are filled with substance.

After reading the book, I had the chance to talk with Hayhurst, and in our string of emails, I asked about both the new book, and what to expect from him in the future.

What made you want to share your experiences with depression and addiction with the world?

Writing about baseball from the inside of a paradox. On one hand, players want everyone to know what they go through, what they overcome and how much adversity they've beaten back to get where they are. On the other hand, they don't want anyone to know the things that make them less than a superhero in costume that everyone envies and admires. But you can't have it both ways. I've always tried to write honestly about the player experience, and that means avoiding cliches and venturing into rough waters. I bear my soul so that other players can feel like they're not alone in what they go through, nor are those who watch the game. Baseball should be relatable. The truth is players are not superheroes. They're people, just like everyone else. And if you lose the right to be a person, or try to exchange it for a costume that makes you super in title only, you'll struggle when you break—as we all do. I wrote it because it was true. I wrote it because I believe people should not be ashamed of who they are, and should be afforded every chance to embrace it without shame.

Hayhurst's candor is one of his great qualities as a writer, and it shows in his response.

Generally, fans bastardize the human qualities of the athletes they look up to. Whether it's the adoration they receive from fans, or the millions of dollars shelled out to individual players on a yearly basis, fans tend to forget that underneath it all, there's a human being facing the same daily struggles they do.

Hayhurst's book brings these issues to the national stage putting his battles with depression and addiction directly under the national spotlight in an attempt to show fans the human elements of professional athletes.

As previously mentioned, Hayhurst also served as a broadcaster for the Blue Jays. However, he recently vacated the position. So, naturally, I wanted to know what was on deck for the former big leaguer.

One other thing too, I know you recently left Sportsnet. Any plans for what’s next?

App development. I'm currently building an IOS baseball game called Bush League wherein you have to take copious amounts of PEDs to make it to the big leagues. It's a tongue-in-cheek jab at real-life baseball culture. Should be lots of laughs and make those long bathroom visits more enjoyable. It's out this April. 

Hayhurst mentions his being a gamer in his work, and it should be interesting to see how the app takes off. Given his description of the app, and also Hayhurst's sense of humor, it's something for baseball fans to keep an eye on moving forward.

Although Hayhurst may be done playing baseball, his impact on the game we all love will do nothing but grow.

As I leave you, presumably, to go read the book, take a look at some of the early Twitter reactions to Bigger Than the Game

 

 Hayhurst Hayhurst's third book, "Bigger Than the Game," is available for purchase today and a list of retailers carrying the book can be found on his personal website. Be sure to visit that site for blog posts, info on the new book and future info on the app Hayhurst is producing.

Also, you can follow Hayhurst on Twitter for all things life and baseball. His handle is @TheGarfoose.

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