ANAHEIM – It’s been more than a full year of misery for Jared Walsh. A year that not only deprived him of the ability to play baseball at its highest level. But it was also a year that deprived him of sleep. This deprived him of his ability to simply move his body without tremors.
This robbed him of his depth perception. He walked through the walls, unable to properly understand where his body was in relation to everything else.
Missing the first month of this baseball season is just a byproduct of his baffling illness. It jeopardized the livelihood of an otherwise healthy 29-year-old professional athlete.
So when spring training was over, Walsh’s mother, Lisa Walsh, found a facility in Utah that specialized in treating her symptoms. It would force him to step away from the game, but it was worth it to get his game and his life back.
“It’s been hell, to be completely honest with you,” Walsh said. “It was hell. Not knowing what is going on. Not understanding what is going on with my body. To be in the prime of life. The bonus of my career. And not being able to get answers, not being able to figure out why I can’t do basic tasks. This was quite worrying for me.
Walsh spoke at the clubhouse on Saturday hours before the Angels took on the Rangers. He expressed disappointment with their situation but was resolute in his desire to move past them.
Walsh was an All-Star in 2021, blasting 29 home runs and driving 98. He established himself as a top player in the Angels’ future. An incredible story from a 39th round draft pick to a solidified major leaguer in just a few years.
That success was nowhere to be found in 2022. These symptoms were at the heart of his failures on the pitch. He struck out over 30% of the time and his OPS dropped over 200 points. Walsh kept the disease a secret. He was also battling symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome and underwent surgery in August. Walsh believes the neurological symptoms exacerbated her issues with TOS.
Walsh said he was much better. His treatment worked. He is not fully back and some obstacles remain before he can begin a rehabilitation mission. But the belief is that he’s not far off and a ramp up wouldn’t take that long.
He replied “Hell yeah”, when asked if it was difficult to make this choice. He kept it private as long as he could. He played there as long as he could. Getting help was the only option.
“For the longevity of my career and to reclaim my life,” Walsh said, “it was a decision I felt compelled to make.”
Walsh thinks COVID-19 could have played a role in his problems. He has tested positive for the virus three times, starting in mid-2020. He said he felt like the virus wasn’t affecting him much at the time, but acknowledged that those long-term impacts could have a direct correlation.
Doctors told him it wouldn’t impact his long-term career. Walsh has been told by his doctors that they have seen worse cases than his which have led to recoveries. The worry will clearly not go away until her symptoms completely disappear.
“Working so hard to get to this level and then everything that’s happened has been tough,” Walsh said. “It’s been a struggle.”
His treatment schedule in Utah ran from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. He was ambulatory and he stayed at a nearby hotel.
The action plan involved a lot of cardio training and vestibular balance work – essentially neurological training for what would otherwise be simple body movements. He has had vision training and worked with “where is my body in space”.
It’s as simple as it sounds. But as frustrating as you can imagine.
“Hard to go hit the Astros when you can’t walk straight,” joked Walsh.
The worst of his symptoms was – and still is – his tremors. His body was shaking, and he still does sometimes. It’s uncomfortable, he says, given his age. Inexplicable.
Insomnia was hard on him and made daily baseball practice difficult. He woke up in the middle of the night and stayed awake for a while. That, coupled with traveling to different time zones, was difficult. He sometimes uses an Oura Ring to measure his sleep.
What Walsh wants to make clear is how bad this health situation has to be for him to miss games. It was scary for him not to be there. He watched every game on TV and was at the stadium for the last two homestand games. He is doing baseball activities and waiting for the OK to speed up even more.
He met a lot of people through that process, including people from the Utah settlement who were going through what he was, or something similar. He met doctors who helped him. It made him realize that he is not alone in dealing with a confusing illness that can feel isolating.
“These are uncharted waters with Walshy, I’m still concerned about him,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said. “Even when (he plays), it will always stay in my head. I worry about him. … It’s a scary business. I think he has some clarity.
“However we get to the finish line, we’re all in this together.”
Walsh does not want to take the plunge. He doesn’t want to play through this without fully addressing his symptoms. He listens to his body, he says. It takes precedence over the desire to play through it.
He assumes there will be work he does to maintain his health once he returns. There is hope, however, that by giving his brain what it needs now, it will adapt and allow him to be himself.
“Understanding that if I’m walking into walls and doing weird stuff like that, I’m probably not in the best position to be reactionary,” Walsh said.
Walsh’s career has been nothing short of remarkable. He was the 1,185th pick in the 2015 draft. The final selection in the penultimate inning. A trick that no longer exists. Players are chosen there to populate the roster until their eventual release.
Instead, four years later, Walsh was in the big leagues. Two years later, he was an everyday player. Now his face is plastered outside the stadium’s main entrance.
This disease derailed him, and this incredible journey. But he’s determined to make it temporary and get back everything he worked for.
“I had long nights,” Walsh said. “But I’ve met a lot of very smart people over the past few months. They really renewed my optimism a bit. They are optimistic that I will be back as good as new. So I’m just going to take their word for it.
(Photo by Jared Walsh from 2021: Ashley Landis/Associated Press)