ATLANTA - Warming up at Truist Park, Tyler Matzek is grateful to be here.
"It's been great, man, great fan base, great stadium, great team," Matzek says. "Being here on the Braves, being on an unbelievable team, a World Series caliber team, being with some of the greatest dudes in baseball, it's been so much fun."
But to get here, the 31-year-old had to push through anxiety so severe, it nearly cost him his career.
In 2015, at spring training with the Colorado Rockies, he went to throw the ball, and his muscles locked up.
They call this "the yips."
"The best way to describe it is it's an overreaction to fear. You start fearing the outcome more than just doing what you can control," Matzek says.
The problem intensified.
"I experienced it every single throw, short throw, long throw, it didn't matter, I would just have a kind of muscle tightness, you could say, in my whole arm and my whole body. It would just kind of get locked up and stuck," he remembers.
Matzek would not pitch again in the majors for 5 years.
"No teams called me," he says. "No teams wanted me to be on their team. I mean, who wants a guy who can't throw a strike, who can't throw a baseball?"
But, with help, he pushed through his anxiety and the Atlanta Braves in 2020.
Matzek is now sharing his story through Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Strong4Life program's "Raising Resilience" campaign.
You can read more about teaching children resiliency at strong4life.com/en/emotional-wellness/stress
Strong4Life licensed therapist Jody Baumstein says the goal is to teach kids life skills to overcome challenges.
"Anxiety is a really common part of life, a lot of people experience it," Baumstein says. "However, we often feel like we're the only ones, and we're failing, and we're broken.
So, we really need to shift the narrative and help people understand that it's an inevitable part of life. We will experience stress, we will fail. It doesn't mean it makes us a failure. It doesn't mean it even defines us."
Matzek learned to control what he can, and let the rest go.
"As a pitcher, I can only control how well I throw the ball towards the catcher," he says. "If the guy hits it, if the umpire calls it a ball or a strike, it's all out of control. That's what kind of makes the game beautiful."
He also learned to rethink failure.
"I used to take failure so poorly, instead of understanding it's just an opportunity for you to learn and get better for the next time," Matzek says.
Baumstein says the brain often fixates on the negative.
"It fixates on the things we're not doing well, and it's distorted, because it's not really the full picture of who we are," Baumstein explains. " It's our success, it's our failure, it's all of it."
And all of it, especially the hard stuff, has made Tyler Matzek the player he is today.
"I just embrace every moment of it that I can be out on the baseball field, and kind of living my childhood dream," he smiles.