December 8, 2007
Like every head coach or manager on every level of baseball, one of Mackey Sasser’s responsibilities at Wallace Community College in Dothan, Ala., is to throw daily batting practice.
Except for Sasser, the routine act of throwing stopped coming naturally to him many years ago.
To former Mets catcher Sasser, throwing batting practice was no different from throwing the ball back to the pitcher – which was a problem. The same mental block that used to make him pump his wrist repeatedly before throwing still was happening on and off in his 11 years at Wallace Community College, and his only way to treat it was to take occasional breaks.
“I was still having problems,” he said by phone the other day. “There would be times when I couldn’t throw, and then I would just sit down. But it would come back.” The problem began in July 1990 after a collision at home plate with Atlanta’s Jim Presley. Sasser never could explain why, but from that point on, when he was about to return the ball to the pitcher, he cocked his wrist two, three, maybe four times.
It happened randomly. He couldn’t control it then as a catcher, and he couldn’t control it as a coach tossing batting practice.
That’s why when he received a random call two summers ago from a friend who wanted to refer him to a Long Island psychotherapist working on a book about performance blocks, Sasser agreed to meet him.
On Aug. 4, 2006, Sasser met for three hours in Manhattan with Dr. David Grand, who has a practice in Bellmore. In a telephone interview, Grand said they spoke in detail about past traumas that occurred on and off the field, going as far back as when he was 10 years old. And then, using a method he calls “The Grand System,” Sasser identified and released these memories from his body.
According to Grand, throughout the session, Sasser kept saying, “I feel relaxed. I feel safe. I can’t see it anymore. And I can’t feel it anymore. My body feels clear.”
When Sasser returned to Alabama, he suddenly could throw batting practice without any hitches. This was stunning, considering he spent several years as a player trying everything from working with some of the nation’s best psychologists to such activities as yoga.
“It’s not hypnosis or anything like that,” Sasser said. “They find out about you personally, the trauma in your life, that kind of stuff. And they work from that. And it actually helped me, believe it or not. You find out a lot of stuff about yourself that you really didn’t know. It really is kind of scary. But it brings peace to you. It opens up a lot of windows to look at your history. I think it would’ve helped me handle that situation a lot better.”
Sasser said he learned a lot about his past injuries and about his father, with whom he lived after his parents divorced when he was 10 years old.
All of those incidents contributed to his throwing yips, with the Presley collision in Atlanta pushing him over the edge.
“When Jim Presley ran him over blocking the plate, it was literally like being run over by a truck,” Grand said. “That’s a combined physical injury and an emotional injury, and because of the emotional injury, you feel like you’re going to be damaged or destroyed … That was one of many incidents, but it was one of the most powerful.”
More than 17 years after that collision, Sasser believes he has been cured of his throwing problem. He wishes he could have met Grand back in 1990, but at the same time, he’s thankful for having met him now.
He’s still got BP to throw.