SARASOTA, Fla. — Reed Garrett was ready for it all to be over.
If he hadn’t been on the road, traveling for a game with the Saitama Seibu Lions in Japan, he might’ve packed up his apartment right then and there.
It wasn’t just his outing, although he struggled mightily. It was everything, from living in a foreign country and being away from his wife and son to the rapidly receding enjoyment he found on the field. Garrett’s son was approaching a year and a half old, and yet Garrett had spent all of three months by his side because he was chasing a dream that brought him to the other side of the world.
Unsure of what else to do, Garrett called his agent.
“I don’t know how much longer I can do this,” Garrett said. “I’m just beating myself up right now.”
Garrett had put so much into baseball. The right-hander spent three years at the Virginia Military Institute, another six working his way through the minor leagues before the Detroit Tigers selected Garrett in the Rule 5 Draft.
After 15 1/3 innings at the highest level, though, the Tigers designated Garrett for assignment, removing him from their active roster, and Garrett was back to the churn of professional baseball, the unforgiving nature of a sport in which the difference between a minor leaguer and major leaguer can be infinitesimal — yet feel a world away.
Japan, then, was an opportunity. It truly was a world away. But to chase his dream across an ocean meant leaving his wife and son. It meant experiencing an unknown culture. It meant being one of the few foreign players on a team during those 2020 and 2021 seasons.
And it led him to a crossroad during that 2021 campaign, on the phone with his agent wondering what to do next, whether all this was worth it.
“You get to a certain point where it’s super dark,” Garrett said, “you can either keep going or turn around and find your way out of it.”
Head down, back to work. Keep pushing on! pic.twitter.com/629ZySU2Lj— Reed Garrett (@reedgarrett12) August 23, 2020
Putting the decision aside for a moment, Garrett scrolled through Twitter. He stumbled upon the profile of a strength coach, Josiah Igono, who he knew from when they were both in the Texas Rangers organization. They hadn’t spoken in years, but he noticed Igono had become a performance psychology consultant. Garrett reached out.
That message helped change everything.
Not in one fell swoop. Baseball and the mind have that in common — progress takes time. But over the course of the next two years, Garrett found a way through the darkness, powering forward rather than turning back, leading Garrett to a major league clubhouse again.
The 30-year-old is on the outside looking in — as he has been for much of his career — as a non-roster invite pushing for a place in the Orioles’ bullpen. If not for his message to Igono, however, Garrett may never have found his way back to this point.
‘Reigniting the flame’
On Jan. 29, 2020, Mary Garrett gave birth to Beau, the couple’s first child.
On Feb. 3, 2020, Garrett took off for Japan, and he wouldn’t see his wife, Mary, or his son until Nov. 10, 2020, when he was greeted with a hand-painted sign with hand and footprints from Beau stamped next to the words: “Welcome home, Dad.”
In the intermediary months, Garrett saw Beau grow through FaceTime, from a newborn to a toddler with a shock of blonde hair. Still, Garrett’s nights were their mornings, and seeing his family through a screen left him wanting more.
“It was a hard time,” Garrett said, “trying to figure out how to get through being depressed, missing family, missing out on things my son was doing.”
On the field, Garrett found more success than he had during his first stint of the major leagues with the Tigers. He developed a splitter, adding a pitch to his arsenal that pairs well with a mid-90s fastball with movement that can make it difficult for hitters to pick up.
Garrett learned the cultural differences between pitching instructors, how his Japanese coaches wouldn’t approach him unprompted with advice like their American counterparts do. It made Garrett better at self-analysis, digesting video to discern what went right — or wrong — in a particular outing.
From that sense, Garrett’s progress on the mound made a 2021 return to Japan make sense, even during the coronavirus pandemic. He said goodbye to Mary and Beau, thinking 2021 would be easier since he’d already experienced a season — and was wrong.
Partway through the season, as Beau’s year and a half birthday approached, Garrett reached his nadir.
“I just couldn’t deal with it anymore,” Garrett said.
And then he messaged Igono, and the resulting calls helped Garrett find a new frame of mind.
Instead of having to go to the field, Garrett gets to go the field. It was an important distinction, and the first step in finding enjoyment in a foreign environment, in realizing that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
To get there, Garrett needed patience. And he needed a notebook, one in which Igono challenged Garrett to write in daily.
“It’s amazing what happens when you have an outlet,” Igono said. “When you start having an outlet, when you have somebody to talk to who is outside the myopic day-to-day, man, it does wonders for reigniting the flame.”
In small, tidy lettering, Garrett could see exactly what happened on Aug. 17, 2022.
By this point, he was pitching for the Rochester Red Wings, the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. He faced five batters, walked one, struck out another and allowed one run. He had it all written in his green composition notebook, stashed in his backpack and taken with him everywhere.
Early on in his use of it, Igono got on Garrett’s back. His goals had been too general and overarching: Attack, he’d write. Be confident.
“You better know your numbers, dude, because the GMs know your numbers,” Igono replied to those wishy-washy statements. “They know your numbers probably better than you guys. I tell all my players: You better know your freaking numbers.”
Inside that notebook, Garrett writes his everyday course of action. He details his pregame goals, then delves into what he wants to achieve in the game. The next morning, Garrett will come back to his notebook and analyze how he did on his target.
That’s how he knows on Aug. 17, against the Worcester Red Sox, he threw first-pitch balls to three of the five batters he faced. Garrett can look back confidently on his at-bat against Connor Wong, even though it ended with a fielding error to allow Wong to reach as the eventual winning run.
As Igono pushed Garrett to be more specific in his goal setting, Garrett improved in his precision. Rather than writing “attack,” Garrett spelled it out: Throw 70% strikes; mix fastball and off-speed pitches evenly.
While Garrett began the journal in Japan, he became deeply invested in it last year while in the Nationals organization.
“As you get older and you evolve in this game, your talent only gets you so far,” Garrett said. “I felt like it was something that would help me unlock some different things in my game that would help me propel to the next level, and I saw it. It definitely helped me make strides.”
Thinking back on the end of last season, Garrett saw the most improvement during his final two months pitching for Rochester.
He had made it to the big leagues again with Washington, pitched well in his first five appearances and then allowed five runs in an inning. He was optioned shortly after.
Garrett didn’t fall apart, though, because he could look through his notebook and identify what went awry. He reached steadier footing, pitching to a 3.41 ERA in 29 innings in the minors after his demotion, and had the numbers in his notebook carefully recorded.
“How does that feel when you told me that right now?” Igono asked Garrett in a session after the pitcher rattled off precise benchmarks he reached.
“Dude,” Garrett replied, “I feel really confident.”
New goals each day
With his green notebook resting on his knees, Garrett sat at his locker and bent over the pages, recounting the previous day of Orioles spring training work at Ed Smith Stadium. Then he flipped the page and set a new list of goals.
The list is focused on incremental daily targets, not long-term aspirations. But if he were to write his ultimate focus, it would be to earn a place in the Orioles bullpen.
“I’m still working my way up,” Garrett admitted. “I’m 30. I’m not young by any means.”
Garrett signed a minor league contract this winter that included a major league spring training invitation, a chance to pitch his way into Baltimore’s plans. He knows the odds aren’t in his favor. He has thrown well in spurts this spring, recovering from his first outing, when he allowed two homers in one inning.
Maybe that would’ve derailed him two years ago in Japan.
But that’s two years ago, before Garrett began working with Igono weekly and when he was isolated without his family. Now in Sarasota, Mary, Beau and young Lucy, a new member of the family, stayed with him for two weeks, making all this easier to handle. They’ve watched him pitch in person, visited him on the back fields at the stadium complex, and help Garrett understand everything was worth it.
He had dark moments in Japan. But now he’s into the light — and pushing to stay there.