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Old 10-05-03, 01:34 PM
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Post Giants' Eyre Gains His Focus

Giants' Eyre Gains His Focus
ADHD Sufferer Beats Condition With Medicine, Sticky Notes

By Suz Redfearn
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, October 4, 2003; Page D01


Lots of major league pitchers fidget on the mound, spending a few seconds playing with the lip of their hat, fluffing the rosin bag and smacking the ball into their glove. But San Francisco Giants left-hander Scott Eyre took it to extremes when he was with the Toronto Blue Jays, scratching, spitting, kicking the dirt, rubbing his forehead, pulling at his uniform and yanking at his hat between pitches.

Team therapist Tim Hewes took notice. Eyre couldn't sit still in the dugout, he'd drift off on the mound and listen to the crowd or watch soaring airplanes instead of bearing down on the batter. Hewes asked Eyre if he had heard of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a common and treatable neurobehavioral disorder marked by inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

Still, it wasn't quite a eureka moment for Eyre -- not yet. That came the following season, in 2001, during a game against the New York Yankees. "I was on the mound and the catcher came out to talk to me, and when he walked away, I got distracted by the crowd and couldn't remember a word he said," Eyre said. "Suddenly I felt totally confused -- I had no idea what I was doing."

Shaken, Eyre consulted a psychiatrist who confirmed Hewes's suspicions.

Eyre, 31, has worked out of the bullpen during the Giants' National League Division Series against the Florida Marlins -- but he hasn't been fidgeting. He is one of the first professional athletes -- or public figures of any sort -- to step into the limelight with a diagnosis of ADHD. Others who have done so include Christopher Knight, who played Peter on "The Brady Bunch," and David Neeleman, founder and chief executive officer of JetBlue Airways.

Once thought of as the domain of rambunctious little boys, ADHD is now known to persist into adulthood for up to 70 percent of those who have it as kids. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 3 to 7 percent of school-aged children and 4 percent of adults -- men and women -- have ADHD or its related condition, attention deficit disorder.

Many have found help focusing with stimulant drugs such as Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall and Strattera. Small behavior changes -- using an electronic organizer, making to-do-lists, and writing reminders on sticky notes -- can counteract tendencies to be disorganized, and bring some order and measure of control to life. There are ADHD coaches who call clients regularly to remind them to complete tasks.

But for many suffering Americans, the first step toward help is diagnosing the problem.

"A lot of people have been driven to seek treatment because of the people they see on TV who say, 'I'm successful now, but I have this vulnerability. Let me tell you what I went through,' " said David W. Goodman, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "Eyre stands to make a very big difference for people."

A year-and-a-half after that panicky moment on the mound against the Yankees, Eyre has turned his career around. He is taking Concerta daily and working harder to stay organized. Eyre says he can focus, multitask and listen when others are speaking, retaining what they have said -- all new skills for him. A wall has come down and now he's able to be the player he feels he was meant to be.

"I can think about a pitch and also cover first base now," Eyre said, sitting near his locker at Pacific Bell Park recently. "I can stand on the mound and not hear the 40,000 people screaming."

Last summer, Eyre was claimed off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays. With the Giants, he has become a valued left-handed setup reliever, pitching in 10 of the team's 17 playoff games last year, including three in the World Series, all the while giving up no earned runs.

Formerly a guy who talked nonstop and made coaches and teammates irritated and nervous, a guy who was described by a former teammate Dan Plesac, now a Philadelphia Phillie, as being "a 33 record playing on 45 speed," he's now calm, collected. His manager, Felipe Alou, puts him into a game to right things when they are at their most chaotic and tense -- and when the outcome is on the line.

In his only appearance thus far in the NLDS against Florida -- Game 3 Friday -- Eyre retired the one batter he faced on a fielder's choice.

Since Eyre has gone public, a few other Major League Baseball players have come forth to say they have battled ADHD, too. Among them are Blue Jays relief pitcher Justin Miller and Giants reliever Matt Herges. Herges, formerly of the Pittsburgh Pirates, had the condition diagnosed after speaking with another player who had it.

"He told me all his symptoms and I said, 'Holy cow, that's me,' " Herges said. Since getting on the prescription drug Adderall early this season, Herges is no longer out on the mound thinking about matters like the conversation taking place between fans sitting near the dugout or whether his wife's stadium seat is exposing her to the rain. Now he can think about the task at hand. His ERA is down from 4.06 last year to 2.62. "Now, I'm a loaded gun," Herges said.

Eyre bought a Palm Pilot, leaves himself sticky notes and takes his medicine every day before his games. It's become one of his superstitions, along with wearing the same socks with his uniform and not leaving the locker room for the bullpen until the first inning is under way. Not only has his pitching improved, but he no longer forgets to leave complimentary tickets at the ticket window for friends and acquaintances, something he did frequently before his diagnosis.

"It's one of the most embarrassing things there is," Eyre said.

Eyre says he's grateful to Hewes and the psychiatrist who diagnosed the disorder. "They basically changed my baseball career," he said.

Since people with ADHD often have a hard time monitoring their own behavior, it's usually a spouse, coworker, or boss who are first to pick up the problem, Goodman said. They may notice a pattern of disorganization, procrastination or failure to complete tasks. Or it may be quirky habits -- trouble waiting in line, showing up on time, or not letting others finish a sentence.

Before he received the diagnosis, Eyre's wife, Laura, sensed something was amiss.

"It was hard for him to carry on a conversation without getting distracted," she said. "He'd think of something else and just not hear the rest of what you were saying. Then he'd cut in and tell his story. If the kids interrupted him, he'd be unable to remember what he had been talking about." Now, he listens well, she said, and is much easier to talk to. He's also much more patient with his children, Caleb, 5, and Jacob, 3.

Parents approach Eyre after games nowadays and send letters thanking him for speaking of his struggle with his own chemistry. Because of Eyre, they tell him, their kids aren't afraid to admit they have ADHD, and are no longer loath to take their medicine.

"If I had one wish, I'd wish I could go back to high school and take my pills every day," Eyre said. "I could have accomplished so much more. But the more I learn now, the more I can get out to parents."
The end is near...I don't have time to shoe shop for Andi!

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