Rob Whalen is playing professional baseball again. He recently signed with the West Virginia Power of the Atlantic League. He has not appeared in a game since 2018, a season in which he struggled mightily. Whalen isn’t being written about for traditional baseball reasons because more than anything else it is simply a nice feeling that he is able to play the game of baseball again. That may seem like a confusing statement, but that just means you don’t know the saga of Rob Whalen.
Whalen first came to prominence thanks to a 2019 Yahoo! Sports article from Hannah Keyser about his retirement from baseball at the age of 25. The article itself is excellent and I’m not about to rehash what Keyser so wonderfully wrote on that day. The short story is that after a career of struggles with anxiety Whalen had decided he couldn’t do it any longer. He had called the Seattle Mariners during the 2018 offseason, specifically right as he was supposed to be leaving for 2019 Spring Training, and informed the club he could no longer play professional baseball. It was a drastic move, but it was what Whalen needed to do to make things right for himself.
One particular quote from Keyser’s article always stuck out to me,
“I mean, obviously I love the game — but that desire to go work and grind it out and maybe get back up there someday … I definitely think there’s unfinished business on that side.”
That statement is a stark reminder of what a lot of people easily forget; for professionals, baseball isn’t just a game, it is their job. They support themselves, their families, and build their futures through their job as a professional baseball player. With that comes the same issues that affect each and every one of us in our jobs. There are instances, such as Whalen’s, when the well-being of the person outweighs the job at hand. It’s not that Whalen didn’t want to keep playing professional baseball, it’s that he knew he couldn’t with what he was dealing with at that very moment.
The fact that Whalen has signed with the Power and is going through the grind of the job of a professional baseball player means he is in a better place than he was previously. There’s no other feeling that should bring about in baseball fans than one of happiness. Whalen had his chosen career taken away from him because his anxiety simply would not let him take the field and play as he had known how to his entire life. I’m not sure what Whalen has done to make his return to baseball possible (Words Above Replacement did attempt to contact him for this article, but did not receive a response) but he feels healthy enough to be back and that is a great thing.
Whether or not Whalen is a key cog for the Power in their initial Atlantic League season isn’t all that important. Sure, Whalen coming back and succeeding while he works his way back to the Major League Baseball ranks would be a great story unto itself. However, the bigger story has already taken place. Whalen feels comfortable enough in his own skin to be playing professional baseball again. No on-the-field results are going to remove the significance of that fact and that’s why I can’t wait to see Whalen on the mound for the Power in 2021.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Lookout Landing