DENVER, CO - APRIL 6: Daniel Bard #52 of the Colorado Rockies looks on before a game against the Washington Nationals on Opening Day at Coors Field on April 6, 2023 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Daniel Bard almost certainly will pitch again in the major leagues. On Tuesday at Coors Field in Denver, the 37-year-old right-hander threw to Colorado Rockies teammates standing in the batter’s box, the first time he has faced hitters since a disastrous relief appearance with Team USA last month in Miami during the World Baseball Classic and opening the season on the injured list due to anxiety.

Bard has been down this road before, having grappled with all the doubts that crippled him as a baseball player for the better part of seven seasons. He has learned to again love a game that had become almost unspeakably cruel by robbing him of the foundational element of what It means to be a pitcher — the ability to throw the ball across the plate. He had, in the parlance of baseball and golf, “the yips,” which defied all of his attempts to overcome them.

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He knows, in the depths of his soul, what it means to feel like a failure. He knows what it means to feel bereft of hope. He knows what it means to quit and accept the consequences of walking away from the one thing he loved to do more than anything else in the world — and then discover, to his surprise, that life not only doesn’t end in that moment but also offers rewards he never imagined.

And in that discovery, Bard learned the way back, this time armed with the knowledge that his happiness did not depend on whether he could harness the power of his 98-mph fastball the way he did when he was one of the most dominating setup men in baseball.

"We've been texting in the last couple weeks, and he's in a good spot," said Andrew Bailey, Bard's former Boston Red Sox bullpen mate who is now the pitching coach for the San Francisco Giants and a close friend. "I'm glad and proud of him for speaking up and doing what he needs to do to be healthy — physically, mentally and emotionally. We'll see him on the field soon."

And if Bard's return doesn't go as planned and his last time pitching in a competitive environment will be the nightmarish WBC outing in Miami when he fractured Jose Altuve’s thumb with a pitch, walked two others and threw two wild pitches, he will be OK. And the story he wants to share — one that he feels obligated to share — will be no less compelling.

A tale of failure? Hardly. It is a story of courage — the courage to acknowledge that your mental well-being is as critical to your health as your physical well-being. Bard contemplated that again on Tuesday, not only in relation to his own struggles but also in regards to the situation of Detroit Tigers outfielder Austin Meadows, who last week went on the injured list with anxiety.

"I hope he's getting what he needs," Bard told reporters. "It takes time to heal, just like any other injury. There’s a process and some time and some therapies for the body, and in my case maybe the mind, to heal a little bit. I think it does work if you give it the right time, right space and right environment, so hopefully people start looking at it that way.

"I think it's just enough guys being willing to admit either they’re going through something currently, or they come out and say, 'Yeah, I went through this in the past and I grinded through it and I probably should have taken a little bit of time off,'" Bard added. "The more guys who do that, the more it will become normal, just like a guy who hurts his hamstring or elbow."

Bard has words of inspiration to share as well.

"I want to use my story to just give hope for people to get through really hard things, especially in sports," he said in Miami last month, before it all went sideways in the WBC quarterfinal against Venezuela when he faced four batters, surrendered four runs and recorded no outs. "But also people outside of sports and different areas, different walks of life. Different professions where they hit a roadblock and feel like they lost their ability to do something they’re supposed to be good at.

"I don’t necessarily have clear-cut, take-this-pill kind of solutions, but I do have a lot of things I know helped me and are a piece of the healing process for me."

Bard said he doesn't know whether he will one day write a book, but he feels a duty to share his story.

"I was going through that for so long, and there's not much out there," he said. "Like, most people don't ever come back from this, and that's not what you want to hear when you're going through anything like that. So for me being able to get to the other side maybe can be motivation for some people.

"It may suck right now, what you're going through, but things will change. And this, too, shall pass, whatever you want to call it."

Finding 'purpose' and 'happiness'

In 2011, Bard was a lights-out setup man for Jonathan Papelbon and the Red Sox for most of the season, the exception being when he collapsed along with the rest of the team in September, yielding nine walks and hitting a batter in just 11 innings.

Two years later, after walking 27 batters in only 15 1/3 innings in the minor leagues, Bard was designated for assignment by the Red Sox, setting off a nomadic journey that took him through trials with the Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets — all with increasingly despairing results.

In 2017, a 32-year-old Bard faced kids in the rookie league and produced another horror show — five walks and two hit batters in two-thirds of an inning. He quit baseball.

His life, to his surprise, did not crater.

"I want people to know when my career ended the first time, I was super happy in my next phase of life," said Bard, the father of two boys and husband to their mother, Adair, a rock of support throughout his ordeals. "I'd moved on from baseball completely. I think that was the only way I was able to come back. I'd moved on."


Aug 23, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Daniel Bard (52) delivers a pitch in the ninth inning against the Texas Rangers at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Bard knew Mike Hazen, the Arizona Diamondbacks general manager, from his days in Boston. Hazen arranged for Bard to meet with Mike Bell, the D-backs' director of player development at the time. Bell made what Bard considered a shocking proposition.

He offered him a chance to coach.

"I never thought I would get into coaching," Bard said. "I didn't like baseball at that time. It frustrated the hell out of me for six years.

"I didn't know why they wanted me to have that role because I was, like, I couldn’t figure out my career. How am I going to help them figure out theirs? And they were, like, that's the point. You've seen the top. You've seen the bottom.

"Mike Bell said, 'Man, your story is unbelievable.' I said, 'Yeah, a blown career.' He said, 'No, you dealt with a lot. Talk to our guys. Just tell them your story, be yourself any way you can.' He left me like a blank slate with really very little instruction on how to do the job. 'Be present, go to the affiliates, get to know guys, answer their questions.' It kind of evolved from that."

Bell went on to become the bench coach for the Minnesota Twins, but not before having a transformative effect on the life of Bard, who found satisfaction and purpose in sharing his story. He also discovered he could throw a baseball again and hit a catcher's mitt.

"For him to do that — to say, 'You have a ton of value in this game, please don't leave' — was huge," Bard said. "I never got a chance to tell his family that."

In 2021, Bell died at the age of 46 from kidney cancer. He was alive to see Bard resume his career in 2020, when the Rockies invited him to spring training and he won a spot in their bullpen. Bell did not see the heights Bard reached in 2022, when he posted a 1.79 ERA and recorded 34 saves as one of the National League's best closers.

"I don't want to say for everybody it's going to be the perfect happy ending," Bard said. "I have been very fortunate. I didn't know that this part was going to happen and that I would get to play again and do this thing."

Maybe what happened last month in Miami is a reminder that happy endings are never quite as perfect as they seem. Or maybe what happened last month in Miami is incidental to what makes for a happy ending.

"I found purpose. I found happiness in other areas of my life," Bard said. "That alone, to me, is a good story for a lot of people."


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