Days after signing with the Cubs, Marcus Stroman posted part of his offseason training routine on Twitter — a 20-second clip of him doing a handstand to work on shoulder and core stability.
Another part of Stroman’s routine that fans may not see, but carries just as much weight, is his work on his mental health and well-being.
“It's more important as a human being, first and foremost,” Stroman said at his introductory press conference last week. “I think mental health is one of the most important aspects that people don't focus on.”
As MLB’s lockout hit, Stroman was the Cubs’ biggest free agent signing in years, and so far, he looks like the biggest key to them having any chance to compete the way team president Jed Hoyer says he expects them to.
If that’s the case, that makes Stroman’s holistic approach especially important. Whether he’s at the cutting edge of a competitive trend in sports, he’s at least embraced it.
The spotlight on athletes’ mental health has intensified this year as elite athletes, including Olympic gymnast Simone Biles and tennis star Naomi Osaka, withdrew from major events to focus on their mental well-being.
In baseball, team psychologists and mental skills professionals have become as prominent as any traditional coaches on staffs in recent years. Stroman says mental health is something he’s individually put a “huge emphasis” on over the last three to four years.
“This world is a lot,” he said. “It’s a toxic place at times and it can drive you to the place where you kind of want to go crazy at times.
“And I've learned. I've learned how to take a step back. I've learned how to really focus on my mental.”
Stroman said he has a personal therapist and a mental coach and talks to the latter at least once a week, including every day he pitches. He said he keeps a small inner circle and often wakes up and meditates, as well finding time to walk through nature.
“I've never been more calm in my life,” he said. “I'm able to find my calm, work through any adversity, through any turbulence.”
Stroman said it wasn’t easy to open up to the mental side of things and take the steps he did. The stigmas associated with mental health are prevalent in not only sports, but society overall.
“It's something that I was too prideful at first to even think about doing,” he said.
“I've had a lot of friends, family that encouraged it, and I'm so thankful that I opened up to it. Because if I didn’t, I don't think I'd still be in the position I am today. Because like I said, it's a lot.
“It's a lot that any human being deals with, and then you add being an athlete.”
Stroman credited that inner circle, including Nikki Huffman — formerly the Blue Jays’ head trainer whom he hired to be his personal trainer — for helping create a good environment around him in 2020.
He opted out of the shortened 60-game season, returned in 2021 and excelled on the mound for the Mets. Not only did he finish with a 3.02 ERA, but he led MLB with 33 starts (179 innings), an impressive feat after not pitching in 2020.
"I was always a very confident person, but this made me even more confident," Stroman said.
As he heads into his first year with the Cubs, he’s looking to build off his strides both on and off the mound.
“I'm thankful for where I've gotten to, my headspace and I look to keep continuing to push this mental aspect going forward,” he said.