Off field, Heaney finds balance in meditation

Recovering from Tommy John surgery, Angels southpaw at peace while on mend

Off field, Heaney finds balance in meditation

Angels left-hander Andrew Heaney isn't necessarily superstitious, but he is strict about his routine, as most tend to be in his walk of life. Just before walking onto the field for one of his starts, he'll sit on the chair in front of his locker and tie the laces of his cleats, first the one on the right and then the one on the left. Then Heaney will close his eyes, take a deep breath and start to visualize how he's going to attack the opposing lineup.

"It only takes a minute, two minutes," Heaney said. "To other people, it looks like I'm just sitting in my chair lacing up my cleats. But for me, it's something that I've always done. I don't know if you call it meditation, but it's definitely positive visualization."

Heaney grew up understanding the importance of mental stability. His father, Mark, was a pastor who became licensed as a professional counselor. He couldn't teach his son the mechanics of pitching, but he saw how distraught Heaney became when he didn't do it properly, so he went about helping his son attain optimal mental stability.

Heaney got serious about the pursuit while attending Oklahoma State University, taking up yoga and eventually doing some meditation. He'll lean on it now, as he begins the arduous process of a recovery from Tommy John surgery.

"I think as baseball players, a lot of guys maybe don't think about how stressed they are," Heaney said. "You just kind of assume that that's the normal, and you just deal with it; you suck it up and go with it. But it takes anywhere from two to 15 minutes, however long it takes. I think it can really help, in just once a day mellowing people out and getting everybody to focus on how their body is really feeling. I think a lot of guys are pretty in tune with how their body feels physically. But how your body feels mentally, it's a little different thing."

Heaney strikes out seven

Heaney, who underwent Tommy John surgery on July 1, says meditation is a constant presence in his life, but not necessarily a singular act for which he sets aside time.

Sometimes Heaney will do that, too, though. He'll find a quiet space and run an app on his smartphone, usually Headspace, and walk through eight to 12 minutes of meditation. Heaney will embrace the sounds around him, then try to quiet them down and push all the stresses of his life out. He'll focus on his chest rising and falling, focus on his breaths coming in and out, then focus on his hands, his neck and any other part of his body that may be wound tight.

Heaney turned to this exercise frequently in the early part of this season, while waiting to find out if stem-cell therapy would allow him to skirt the operation he wound up having.

Heaney will try to turn to it routinely in the year that follows.

"I hope it helps," Heaney said. "I've never had a major injury like this, or any kind of surgery, so it's hard to say. For me, my overall mental status, my overall mental health -- I feel really positive about that. I'm not a guy who has huge swings as far as big ups and big downs, and I think that that can be a really tough thing for some guys when they do hit the low points. And I know there will be low points, but I feel confident in how I'll be able to handle it. Myself, off the field, I enjoy my life. I love my wife. I have a dog that I love. I have a great family that supports me. All that helps, as well."

Alden Gonzalez has covered the Angels for MLB.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.