50,000 screaming fans are on their feet as “King” Felix Hernandez walks to the mound for the Seattle Mariners home opener on March 29th. Ichiro Suzuki is back in the outfield, the team is showing some promise, and the powerhouse Cleveland Indians are in town with Corey Kluber on the mound. Backup catcher Mike Marjama is soaking it all in after a “cup-of-coffee” with the team the year before. Then, right before game time, he’s penciled in as starting catcher after an injury to starter Mike Zunino. He finally got his shot.
This “career highlight” would, unfortunately, be the last opening day for Mike Marjama. In fact, it’ll probably be the last time he ever steps foot on a big league diamond as a major league ballplayer. A rash of injuries with setbacks led to a seemingly sudden retirement announcement.
“For me, the decision wasn’t hard,” Marjama shared. “The reason I say that is it isn’t something that’s an overnight thing. It’s been happening for quite some time. I’ve had multiple injuries, a pulmonary embolism - I pushed my body pretty hard over the years. I’m an all or nothing kind of guy.”
At 29-years-old, the dream was replaced with a purpose and a mission.
“Sometimes you need to have something taken away to let you know where you’re supposed to be.”
The former catcher first made headlines in March for being outspoken about his past with eating disorders. He teamed up with Lebron James’ Uninterrupted and the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) to make a mini-documentary about his ordeal. This helped spark a passion to help others, more specifically men, who are like he was, suffering silently in their bodies. This is what he was leaving baseball to focus on.
According to the ex-ballplayer, Anorexia, bulimia, and all other eating disorders in between affect up to 20 million women in this country. What you’d probably be shocked to find out is that an additional 10 million sufferers are male. What’s even more disturbing is that those 30 million, are among the ones that are diagnosed. Many millions more never tell anyone.
“I’ve had people tell me they’ve had an eating disorder for 40 years and never told anyone,” said Marjama. “50% of teenage girls and 1/3 of teenage boys use unhealthy ways of dealing with weight. I think at any time in your life you can have a body image issue. You want something to change or you have an issue. It’s hard to ask for help. Especially for men, we’re supposed to be stoic and masculine.”
Marjama is currently a volunteer men’s ambassador for NEDA. He goes to events, walks, and does speaking engagements.
“Having these injuries over the past month, I had a lot of down time to think about what I want my legacy to be,” he revealed. “I kept going back to this idea of my tombstone saying, ‘Here’s Mike Marjama, a guy who played in the big leagues’. Why can’t it be? ‘Mike Marjama, the guy who impacted people’s lives. Who helped people outside of the game’. It’s my privilege, honor, and responsibility to use this platform for good. All this hard work and perseverance to get to the big leagues was not about me. It was about being able to say I’ve helped people throughout life that’s something bigger than me.”
He continued, “Even last year when I got traded to the Mariners, I said to myself, ‘If I never play again, this doesn’t define me if I never make it to the big leagues’. Once I made it to the big leagues and having that perspective, if this is my last day, it’s my last day.”
The former White Sox draft pick credits his newfound perspective to refinding his faith last year.
“I started going to Bible study with some teammates over the last year,” he explained. Several years ago a chaplain came in and explained how he got out of baseball and he always related it to having open hands. Realize when you worship, you have open hands. Sometimes we grasp our career in baseball so tight that God may not be able to take it out of your life but He also can’t put anything into that closed fist. Sometimes it takes for us to open our hands to realize that God may take out baseball but he has the ability to put something else in your hands. That analogy really stuck with me the last few months. The more I went to Bible study, the more I prayed, the more I realized I need to have open hands.”
Marjama took his open hands and left his fate in God’s hands for this season. After being optioned back to the minors on April 20th, he suffered a concussion. When he was set to come back, he strained a muscle in his back.
“All this kind of accumulated into ‘God what do you want?’ The cumulation of a perfect storm. I can leave baseball in the terms that I wanted. I’ve gone and accomplished everything I wanted to. I now have an opportunity to move forward and make an impact in the world. It’s my calling now and it’s bigger than baseball for me,” he shared.
He said that the Mariners organization and his teammates have all been very supportive of his decision. Dan Wilson, a Mariner’s legend, also a former catcher and Christian, has become a great resource for Marjama.
“His big thing of playing baseball was to show people what God had blessed him with. We talked many times about bigger things and how we can use it for good. ‘Go do some good in the world’. It’s hard to hear for die-hard fans, but baseball isn’t everything,” said Marjama. “I’ve even had former teammates say, ‘Hey, I’ve struggled with an eating disorder in my life’. I’ve had men and women message me and tell me they’ve struggled for 30 or 40 years. It’s giving a voice to those people and giving them the courage to seek health.”
Mike Marjama’s own journey with an eating disorder began before he could lace up his shin guards. A young 7th grade Michael saw all the other kids in various stages of puberty development and here he was, not maturing at all. He had just been cut from the basketball team and had no way of getting girls’ attention. He explained that at the time Abercrombie was really in, and the bags used to have chiseled models printed on them that the girls would gawk at.
“I remember thinking, ‘Well if I look like that, girls will want me. How can I get that done? Well, if I don’t eat anything, I won’t get fat and if I work out a ton I’ll get big and strong’,” revealed Marjama. “Nothing was really changing, so I worked out more and ate less, and so on. I wound up becoming bulimic and started binging. I wouldn’t eat for five days and then eat half a pizza out with friends, then you get mad and throw it up.”
Then one year at Thanksgiving, his mother put out this gigantic meal. Marjama grabs two baby carrots and some almonds for his plate. It was then his mom knew there was a problem. From there he was set up with a trainer – that failed. Then he was sent to a counselor – that failed. Finally, he was put in an inpatient/outpatient program at his hospital. It worked, but he missed his entire High School junior year baseball season because of this. After nearly five years, the nightmare was over.
“Now I have coping mechanisms to deal with it,” he stated, and attributes Andy McKay, his junior college head coach, and also the player development director for the Mariners, for helping. “He introduced me to sports psychology so I learned the skills through positive affirmation, being in the present moment, and the power of grieving. Those tools helped my sports performance and my treatment for eating disorder.”
He said one of the hard things about treatment was being the only male there. For women, the stopping and the fluctuation of a menstrual cycle is an indicator, that didn’t pertain to him. He didn’t relate to a lot of the girls there who wanted to be skinny. All he had ever wanted was a 6-pack. Ultimately, the professionals taught him skills that became useful. “It’s an emasculating problem.”
Marjama said there are many signs to look for when you suspect someone has an eating disorder. Some are easy, and others may seem normalized.
“Dieting is the number one indicator of an eating disorder. I’m not against it, but it needs to be done healthily. We can’t start eliminating food groups. When we start taking it to an over obsession then we’re getting into an issue.”
He continued, “A lot of people are using dietary supplements instead of eating. We have an over-fascination with working out. Just try to find a balance. We expect all of our athletes to look like the Spartans in 300. If you look at most athletes, they don’t appear that way.”
— UNINTERRUPTED (@uninterrupted) August 16, 2018
The end game for Mike Marjama is to use his platform and time to now work with people who struggle like he used to.
“We are helping students with media literacy…body satisfaction and confidence as well. Those are areas that we are addressing,” he explained. “Warning signs are dieting, unhealthy weight control behaviors (vomiting, laxatives), or over obsession with food. If you see a young boy or girl that starts to work out a ton – with men, we might think, ‘Oh, he’s a really hard worker’. That may be the case, but if it starts to consume their lives, there may be an issue. Parents just be aware of what’s going on with your kids. Be a part of their lives and you’ll notice what their fascinations are leaning toward.”
Another huge factor is bullying. Marjama said, “65 to 75% say that bullying contributed to their condition.”
And now, even though his calling has shifted, Mike Marjama can never truly leave behind the game that got him here.
“I’m still involved in baseball. I love the game,” he said. He also contributes and works with his alma mater whenever he can.
By the way, Rapzilla.com readers, Marjama is a big fan of Trip Lee and Lecrae. His walk-up music used to be Lee’s “Sweet Victory.”