David Mellor, the senior director of grounds for the Red Sox, did not expect to become a public voice for the mental health struggles he’s endured most of his adult life.
In fact, as he gained fame for his MLB field innovations — such as using special patterns in outfield grass to mask late-season wear and tear — he mostly hid his decades-long pain, even from his own family.
Not realizing PTSD caused the constant nightmares and flashbacks spawned by being struck by a car twice, unlikely incidents that happened 14 years apart, and more than 40 surgeries, he internalized his anguish and at times turned to drinking, which isolated him from his wife and daughter.
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Upon discovering what PTSD entailed in 2010 via a magazine article — and recognizing he had most of its symptoms — Mellor finally sought treatment, receiving counseling and a service dog he said changed his life for the better.
His disposition also thawed, leading him to become an advocate for mental health and eventually write a memoir on his life experiences.
Mellor spoke to Sporting News about his upcoming book, “One Base at a Time,” which will be released June 11 and is available for preorder.
The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Sporting News: What led to the decision to write this book?
David Mellor: In the winter of 2010, my wife and my oldest daughter said, “You know, if you read a story of someone with similar experiences overcoming adversity, would it have inspired you during your journey?” It certainly would have. They said, “Well, then you should write your memoir.”
I think writing my own story was very cathartic and very personal. (When I started the process), I had not yet been diagnosed with PTSD. People would see the scars on my leg and me limping, and when they would ask what had happened, I kept pretty much to the facts. I was worried my voice might crack or I may show emotion. At that time I thought it was a sign of weakness to ask for help, or for someone to see that side of me.
SN: How did that mindset change?
DM: I met my wife in 1982, and for years I had rehearsed while driving back and forth to college, out loud in the car I would practice finding the right words to explain to her all of the raw, buried emotions. How these symptoms were inside of me, from my flashbacks to my range of emotions and the nightmares and the triggers that would cause them. I just couldn’t find the right words.
But when I realized (I might have PTSD), I knew it was an ‘a-ha’ moment. I went home and told my wife about it, and that really started the wheels to expand this book.
Those concerns I had of being judged were not there because my wife said, “Honey, we’ll get through this together. Let’s go to the hospital tomorrow.” I walked into the hospital with my hat down, hoping no one would recognize me. Now when I go in to see the psychologist, I walk in proud and hoping someone will ask me why I’m there because I’m proud to be a PTSD survivor and I want to help others who are going through challenges.
SN: Even so, are you nervous at all for your whole life story to be released in June? That seems like a big deal.
DM: We just want to help others. When I look up in the stands at Fenway tomorrow, everyone excited and thrilled to be there, I also know most of them have challenges going on in their lives. Life is about compassion and helping each other and helping people find the courage to speak up.
SN: Since you were first struck by a car in 1981, society has seemingly come a long way in discussing issues of mental health. You wrote about that a bit in your book, but how important is that ongoing shift to helping individuals?
DM: We are making progress. Hopefully that progress continues, and hopefully this book helps play a small part in breaking that stigma of people asking for help. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. It’s a sign of courage.
SN: In recent years, athletes have disclosed their own battles with depression and other internal struggles. If that had been the case when you were younger, would that have changed your outlook? And what does it mean for people to use their platforms to discuss these issues?
DM: I think it could have helped me then, and it’s certainly helping people now. My hat is off to the athletes, the people who have that platform, to share their own stories to show the human side of life.
It’s wonderful that people share that side because they are helping more people than they know.
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