Cubs Hitting Coach Anthony Iapoce Focuses on Mental Health in Pandemic-Shortened Season

The logistics of operating a truncated schedule, specifically ensuring players’ physical health, have received a lion’s share of the coverage when it comes to the 2020 season. Beyond the more obvious byproducts of playing in the middle of a pandemic in empty ballparks — fake crowd noise, expanded dugouts — is the toll it will take on mental health.

New Sun-Times Cubs beat writer Russell Dorsey talked with Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce about how potential hitting slumps could be magnified during a 60-game season. Iapoce emphasized the importance of mental health and “checking in” with his hitters to really dig down into what might be affecting their performance at the plate.

Even though the Cubs have strengthened their hitting infrastructure with biotech and data experts like Justin Stone and Rachel Folden, their emphasis on mental health is still a priority. That focus on the unseen psychological aspects of performance was integral to their World Series championship run in 2016.

“Emotions play into the breakdown of the swing, right?” Iapoce asked rhetorically. “You can pinpoint his elbow, his hip, but emotions break down a swing and until you dig down deeper, what he might be feeling. And during this time, it could be anything. It could be missing the family is causing this guy to not get hits today.”

Imagine you’re Kris Bryant, complete with sparkly blue eyes and a smile that lights up a room, a new father who recently expressed concern about MLB ensuring a safe environment. You go 0-4 with three strikeouts and the Cubs lose. Is that due to a mechanical breakdown or just the natural stress of working in an unorthodox environment following a sleepless night?

You can’t blame these guys for not performing at their absolute peak when environmental stressors are perhaps at an all-time high. To top it all off, they’re doing this with routines that vary significantly from the norm. They can’t draw energy from fans or congratulate each other through even the most basic physical contact like high fives. Cup bumps are definitely out of the question as well.

Iapoce is well aware of this and he’s made it a priority to dive deeper into the emotional status and psyche of his hitters as they embark together on a season that no one truly understands how to navigate.

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