Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Hoby Milner has the world at his cleats after the side-arming left-hander is proving once again to be an essential part of ‘The Firemen’s’ collective powers.

With an average fastball of 88.5mph last season, he stalls exit velocities like few others can, and at age 33, Milner says he is finally hitting his stride not just as a player, but as a human being to boot.

But, while the baseball star has his head in the game now, the Dallas-born athlete has dealt with his fair share of ups and downs. In an important chat with M&F for mental health awareness month, Milner opens up about his experiences with anxiety and provides 6 essential tips for looking after your own mental health whether it’s on or off the field.

Speaking recently on the Milwaukee Brewers official YouTube channel, Milner explained that the anxiety that he suffered while rising through the ranks from college to Triple-A baseball, lead to him skipping meals ahead of matches.

Sadly, once in the big leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies, those feelings became all the more intense. The player says that the mental pressure he was putting himself under meant that his pitches were significantly slower and causing him to lose focus. He rebounded and recorded a 2.01 earned run average in 2017, only to see his performance falter the following year.

More uncertainty followed, with Milner moving to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018, and the Los Angeles Angels in 2019. And, with his first child needing a stable household, a future in professional baseball was beginning to look bleak, until a crucial opportunity with the Milwaukee Brewers proved to be a path back to reigniting his passion for pitching. Incredibly, Milner’s ERA went from 5.40 in 2021 to 3.76 in 2022, and last year ended with 1.82, making him a hero of the ballpen. Here’s how this baseball player has managed to get his head back in the game, through a determination to succeed with his boyhood dream.

Hoby Milner Suggests Do What You Love

Many of us have fantasies of becoming king or queen of our chosen sport, but what happens when we discover that we are not the natural that we had hoped to be? Hoby Milner is the first to admit that pitching wasn’t easy for him at first, and he had to work hard to find the novel arm slot technique that he uses today. While the player could have given up as a young upstart when his progress was slow, the idea of quitting was never an option.

“When I was a kid, I just wanted to be a big-league baseball player,” Milner tells M&F. “That was my goal, so basically, I was doing what I had to do get there. I love pitching. I love going out to the field every day, I love throwing the ball. And (working hard to progress) is just the way I get to do it longer.”

There’s an old saying that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life, and in the baseball offseason, Milner continues to do what he loves, practicing the mechanics of his craft, going so far as to play winter baseball in Puerto Rico and Venezuela to get those extra reps in.

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Seek Professional Advice

Milner now understands that he suffers from performance anxiety, and says that seeking professional advice was essential for moving forward. “Medication is half the answer and mindset is the other half,” he says. In 2019, suffering with crushing confidence issues in the minor leagues, Milner was caught up in a viscous cycle where neck pain was feeding into his anxiety, and his inability to relax was further tightening up his neck muscles in return.

Then came the stomach pains.

“I’d gone to the hospital to check on my stomach, to see if I’d got a stomach ulcer, and they were like ‘you know what? Here’s a Xanex. Why don’t you take this?’ and I felt great in an hour,” says Milner. “Okay, it’s obviously not my stomach, it’s my mentality.” Milner had talked to the Tampa Bay Rays team psychologist and had also found that medication was helpful, but then after feeling better he decided to stop taking the very medication that was levelling him out.

Months later, however, after moving teams again and now facing what could have been a devastating non-tender from the LA Angels, Milner the human being still had a lot to look forward to. With the impending birth of his daughter in 2020, perspectives shifted and his young family rightly became the focus. Milner jumped back into therapy and taking his medication, and says that his final season with the Angel’s was actually a time of healing.

By learning to release the debilitating pressure from himself, the players’ sporting mindset actually improved, and when the Milwaukee Brewers came calling for him, the solid work that he’d already put in to his mental health began to pay dividends. “I didn’t want to take medication, for a very long time, but it just turned out that I needed it,” says Milner, imploring anyone that needs help to seek professional advice. “Not everyone needs it, some people just need a better mindset.” Indeed, talking to a qualified mental health professional will get you on the road to a diagnosis and treatment that is right for you.

Milwaukee Brewers Pitcher Hoby Milner and his family
Courtesy of Hoby Milner

How Hoby Milner Achieves a Flow State

“There’s something called a Flow State, which is like, competing at your highest level and not thinking about it at all,” says Milner, who has often fallen victim to overthinking on the field.

Research has shown that emotions can determine flow, and that a positive flow state is often associated with pleasure and success. “It’s just something that, if you’ve done the practice, you can go out there and perform with what’s ‘automatic,” adds the pitcher. It’s true; studies in the areas of sports and music, where reaction times are essential, agree that appropriate practice at your chosen activity and the ability to focus fully on the task at hand is a great way to promote the flow state, while negative emotions such as anxiety will throw up a huge roadblock and disrupt that flow.

Project Your Thoughts

As of now, the process of achieving a flow state is not an exact science, meaning that there will still be times when athletes face anxieties. Milner has a coping strategy however, and it is all about projecting his thoughts. When sitting in the ballpen and feeling nervous, Milner was once advised to pick another player on the field, and try to think about whatever it is that they may be thinking. “I start thinking about the left field on the other team, and I’ll be like ‘what’s this dude thinking right now?’ And then, all of a sudden, I’d forget that I’m nervous,” explains Milner. “And that really works for me, just with some conscious thought.”

Milwaukee Brewers Pitcher Hoby Milner expaining his struggles to get where he is
Milwaukie Brewers

Learn to Let Go of the Uncontrollable

The brilliant baseballer says that there is nothing to be gained by getting hung up on the uncontrollable and that the best way to find peace is to be as prepared as possible.

“As a pitcher, you can control everything up to the point where you release the ball,” says Milner. “I can control how much knowledge I have about the hitter; I can control how comfortable I am with my mechanics. I can make adjustments here and there, and that’s really all I can control. So, I make sure I did everything right in my preparation: I hydrated, I make sure I’m working out on a regular basis, and did everything I could so that if I failed, then I know I don’t have to worry about it, like ‘it is what it is’, and it wasn’t meant to be. That’s been the biggest thing for me; just knowing that I’m giving my best effort, at all times, so that way I don’t feel like I missed out on an opportunity because I wasn’t prepared.”

Support Your ‘Team’

Milner is having fun again, with his loving wife and two young children, and on the baseball field. While we all have our own unique experiences with mental health, we are a social animal too, and the wellbeing of our friends, families, and even teammates is greatly connected to our own fortunes.

“Let’s just say, my second baseman is having anxiety problems, or can’t perform, because he’s got something going on, I would prefer him to go and get some help, and perform at his best,” says Milner, who is always there for a team chat, and agrees that getting our mental health checked is just as important as getting our physical ailments fixed. “We all want everyone out there on our team to perform at their best,” he says. Traditionally, men have found it tough to talk about their mental health, but with champions like Hoby Milner showing that success is about mind, body, and soul, we must continue to talk in the open, looking after ourselves, and each other, for the wellbeing of us all.

Watch Hoby Milner on tips on mental health on the Milwaukee Brewers official YouTube channel