Thursday, May 12, 2016

My Thank You To Jed Lowrie, Revisted Five Years Later

I was a sportswriter between the years of 2011-2014, spending three years covering the Baltimore Orioles, Stanford baseball, and the MLB Draft for a website called Aerys Sports, where all the lead sportswriters were female-identifying or non-binary. We aimed to push the envelope and bring more women into a field primarily dominated by men, a theme that seems to recur frequently throughout my life. The site is gone now, but using the Wayback Machine (because archivists are great) allows me to access the vast majority of what I wrote. Facebook reminded me that five years ago yesterday I wrote a piece about a former Stanford baseball player who was one of the reasons I chose to keep living when my OCD was at its peak.

If you've known me for a long time, you're probably aware by now of how I feel about Jed Lowrie. I've followed his career since 2007, when he was still in the Minors, and although he's had his fair share of injuries throughout his career he's steadfastly been my favorite since that time. I'm actually wearing the shirt I had customized the second I knew his number when he was called up by the Red Sox for the first time in April 2008. (This shirt is now eight years old.) I've been faithfully following his career for almost nine years now and absolutely nothing has made me love him any less.

Some things have changed since I wrote the piece I wrote in 2011, which was primarily about me coming to terms with my OCD and Asperger's and clinging to the few positive things that mattered to me, one of which was Jed Lowrie. My voice is different now - more confident, stronger, and much more definitive - and there are mentions of my former college roommate (referred to in here as my "best friend" and not by name), who was unintentionally extremely emotionally harmful to me due to her own mental health issues and who I cut off later that year in order to help both of us recover. At the time I wrote this, I was still trying to be on good terms with her and was walking on eggshells, but it was clear to me by this point that she had become outright emotionally abusive, although unintentionally so. I still look back on that friendship with a lot of mixed feelings because whilst it led to the events that brought about my diagnosis and allowed me to clear up my understanding of things, it also was that friendship that directly led to my two-year mental breakdown and immense struggles. 2009-2011 was the darkest emotional period of my life, and the friendship that I briefly tried to justify in the article was a big part of that.

So again, thank you, Jed, because you helped save me from that, too. Even though by the end of 2011 you were off to Houston and I was briefly heartbroken before realizing you'd actually get regular playing time there and remembering that I had an account, you were one of the reasons I wanted to keep living, and so I got out of that friendship for both her sake and mine.

I've never been able to write personally to Jed and tell him any of this because I'm a big chicken, but if anyone who can get this information to him sees this, you're always free to pass it along, as usual. I wish I was able to say these things more freely to people, but anxiety tends to get in the way of me telling anyone how much they really mean to me outside of family and friends.

Below the cut is my 2011 article:

Sometimes a game becomes more than a game. Sometimes it saves you.

I’m going to tell you all a very candid story. It’s about a baseball player and me. We’ve never met, never spoken to each other. He probably doesn’t even know I exist. But he’s a major reason why I’m here writing to you today.

I was a freshman at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. I came to study military history. I was also hoping that along the way I’d meet awesome people and have amazing friendships with them and grow and learn and have fun, because that’s a major part of college life. I was ready for a new beginning, having been made fun of for being different all through my grade school years. I came in with newfound confidence, albeit nervousness, and it was shattered almost instantly. I wasn’t making friends. People didn’t seem to want to be around me. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong since I was trying my absolute best to be friendly with them. I felt my grade school career coming back, washing over me. I grew lonely.

But I still had the Red Sox. I engrossed myself in them even more than I had before, watching them on TV and becoming deeply involved in following the Minor League system.

Jed Lowrie and I “met” in late September of 2007, when the Red Sox prospects in the Arizona Fall League first caught my eye. I realized he had been in the same college conference as Jacoby Ellsbury (Oregon State) and Dustin Pedroia (Arizona State) and that they were contemporaries, and so I started paying more attention. I also picked up on the fact that he was absolutely smart. (This is where my love affair with Stanford baseball began.)

The Sox gave me postseason baseball that year, then gave me a World Series title to be happy about. I began watching the AFL even more after that, as it was the only baseball left at that time since the winter leagues hadn’t started up yet, and Jed grew into my favorite prospect there. I started doing research and learning about both him and the others playing there, and before long I had developed what I term a prospect crush, wherein I adopted a favorite Minor Leaguer and became fixated on his rise to the Majors. Of course, somewhere along the line I realized Jed was also ridiculously adorable and extremely easily amused (seriously, he laughs at everything), and combined with him being really smart it hit me that I wanted to marry someone someday who was just like him.

I began to make friends at college – they remain the most important people in my life. And I continued to write about baseball on my Livejournal and began meeting other writers and fans online. I’m still in touch with everyone I initially connected with online, too, and they mean so much to me.

Fast forward to April 15th, 2008. Jed had recently been called up to fill in for the injured Mike Lowell. I shelled out over $100 for MLB.TV that night so I could finally see him in the Majors. The screencap to the left is from his first Major League at-bat, in which he eventually struck out. But I remember the game so clearly – his first Major League put-out was of college teammate Ryan Garko, and he ended the night with three RBIs, which tied a Red Sox rookie debut record. He stayed up for about a month, then went back down to Pawtucket only to return in August. In both August and October, he had clutch game-winning singles in the 9th. And then he was the last out in the 2008 ALCS and I cried. I was as crushed as he was.

2009, though, is where this story becomes a lot more serious and important. It was then, probably due to a combination of stress and the fact that seemingly everyone on campus had a boyfriend but me, I was hit hard by a condition called HOCD [note from 2016: better described as Sexual Orientation OCD since it can happen to anyone of any sexual orientation]. I am one of the least homophobic people ever, so it made no sense to me but the thoughts were so incessant I could barely keep myself focused on schoolwork. I started to avoid my friends, straining my relationships with them. I hid a lot. I spiraled downwards into depression. It was absolutely the darkest time of my young life.

But my best friend and I still made the trek to Florida for Spring Training, and we went to two Mets games and a Sox game. I still remember the moment I walked up the stairs to reach the concourse at Roger Dean Stadium, where the Sox were playing the Cardinals. Jed was taking batting practice when I got up there. The first thing my eyes saw when they hit the field was the number 12, and my heart skipped a beat. Literally, I felt a jump in my chest. I was sick and mentally addled and all out of sorts, but my favorite player was there and he was still smiling, and it made me smile, too.

Then in April, Jed went down with a wrist injury. Now we were both out of commission.

I turned 20 that April, still struggling so badly with my HOCD that I went to a campus therapist (Dr. Kathy Bradley is my hero forever). On the bright side, I found a kitten, who I named after Mets player Daniel Murphy. (Murphy, of course, has grown up to be one of my favorite baseball-watching buddies. Oh, and he’s so cute.)

But now both Jed and I were down at the same time, and the irony wasn’t lost on me, even then.

That summer, I went to a psychiatrist and ended up receiving an official OCD diagnosis and some Zoloft. But things still weren’t right. When I was younger, my mother told me she thought I might have Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. We didn’t pursue it at the time, but when she brought it up again, I finally listened. So I got my Asperger’s diagnosis that summer, too.

With a whole new identity (some closure about both who I was and why), I began taking steps to recover. As I became more self-assured, Jed rehabbed in the Minors. The Sox were eliminated in the ALDS that year, although Jed made the playoff roster after clocking a huge grand slam in late September. And despite the pain in his wrist and all of that rehabbing he did, he was still smiling. I realized I might as well be, too.

I went to Spring Training again in 2010. This time, I got to see a Sox-Mets game at Tradition Field. And this time, Jed was out with mono. Within days, we learned he would be out for at least two months. I was crushed. But he came through again. As I was struggling to try to carry myself confidently again in public knowing I was autistic, once again, Jed displayed his brilliant resilience. He popped back up in mid-2010, hale and hearty, wrist fully healed, hitting well and fielding brilliantly and, of course, smiling.

I’m not going to lie, I was utterly inspired.

This past February, I learned that while he was sick he finished up the requirements remaining on his Stanford degree. I realized we were going to be in the same graduating class. Jed Lowrie, Stanford Class of 2011. Steph Diorio, Gettysburg Class of 2011.

It was so fitting I almost cried. I couldn’t believe it. Here was this player I’d loved and idolized and relied on my entire college career, and now we were graduating in the same year. I was blown away.

Jed’s getting married this off-season to someone who is perfect for him (her name is Milessa and she works for the State Department – see? Perfect). I’ve still never even held a boy’s hand. We don’t do everything at the same time. But the things we have done at the same time have kept me going when I was extremely down on myself and depressed.

It’s a debt I’ll owe him for the rest of my life.

Jed, I don’t know if you’ll ever see this, but thank you for everything you’ve done for me. You were a friend when I needed one, helped me shape my identity when I had none, and always reminded me to keep my chin up and keep smiling.

And look at you now, playing so well in 2011. If our lives over the past few years are any indicator, I’m going to have a great 2011, too.

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