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Throwing Open the Door: By Speaking Up, Baylor Catcher Sydney Collazos Destigmatizes “Yips”

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It’s important to know that Baylor’s Sydney Collazos loves to throw. She lives to throw. 

The angel on her shoulder, the one that makes her an empathetic and perceptive catcher, doesn’t ever want runners reaching base against her pitchers. The voice on her other shoulder? Truth be told, that one gets a little giddy when the occasional opponent finally finds a way on. 

“The second a runner gets on first,” Collazos said, “I’m thinking ‘Run. Please run. Go ahead.  Get a little bit of a bigger lead than you should.’ 

“I love to throw out runners. What catcher doesn’t love to throw out runners? I get excited every time. I am very confident when it comes to throwing out runners, and I think I’ve had a lot of success doing so.” 

Over the past two seasons, she’s thrown out more than 30 percent of the runners who attempt to steal against her—a success rate better than any Big 12 team and which leaves opponents below the threshold that analytics suggests makes it worthwhile to even bother running. 

But if you’ve heard of Collazos, it may be because of the other throws. The throws that don’t really mean anything in the story of a game or a season. The throws you don’t even notice. Until you do. For reasons she doesn’t understand—because from baseball players like Steve Sax and Rick Ankiel to softball stars like Eileen Canney and Anjelica Selden, no one has ever really understood the phenomenon—something gets in her way when she tries to make one particular, basic throw. In her case, when she throws the ball back to the pitcher. 

For the better part of a decade, she’s had a “thing,” as she settled on describing what others might call a mental block or, somewhat callously, the yips. 

The thing didn’t stop her from earning a scholarship from one of Division I’s more recognizable programs. It didn’t stop her from locking down a full-time starting role by the time she was a sophomore or honing the skills and confidence for a breakout offensive season in 2023. All it does is stop her from throwing the ball back to the pitcher the way everyone else does. 

Instead, she steps out from behind the plate, pumps once and then lobs the ball back in a motion somewhat reminiscent of a shot putter.  

The thing about the thing is that many people don’t notice anything else. All of the work she put in to earn the opportunity to be behind the plate at Baylor? That doesn’t stop people from judging her for the seemingly awkward routine. It doesn’t stop some of them from belittling her.

The thing makes her different.

Isolation can drain the game of the joy it once brought. It might be the toll of social media snark. Or the internal frustration of something beyond your control. It might be sheer fatigue from too many failed remedies. It’s often all of those things that . But for too many, the loneliness of an experience that no one else understands is too often a reason to leave the game. 

It can make someone feel alone. Even when they aren’t.

For Collazos, there’s no better reason to start talking. No one thing defines her as a catcher or a person. Certainly not this thing.

“I could have all the success in the world. I could be the prettiest person in the world. I can be the most intelligent person in the world,” Collazos said. “But ultimately, people are going to connect with me as a player and they’re going to be inspired through my weaknesses. 

“I think I can use that to be be more helpful to people. Why not be transparent with this and set up some sort of platform or be a resource to somebody who can use it.” 

Once a catcher, always a catcher

Collazos wasn’t born a catcher. It only feels that way sometimes. She got her start as a shortstop. But at some point in Little League, her team needed someone behind the plate. The coach told her to give it a try. She loved it, loved being involved in every play and the way the game unfolded in front of her. It loved her, too. For someone who describes herself as “an extrovert bordering on obnoxious,” running the team from behind the plate was a role from central casting. 

This season, Collazos is hitting nearly .400 with an OPS well above .800, a key cog in a much improved Baylor lineup. These days, talking about Collazos dealing with her throwing block, Baylor coach Glenn Moore notes pragmatically that he’s going to get a bat like hers in the order regardless. But there was a time, back near the beginning, when she earned her place in lineups with her defense and game management. That identity stuck. Growing up, bats came and went. But she wore her Easton catching gear until the shin guards were in tatters. 

“I took a lot of pride in catching and being as good defensively as I was,” Collazos said. “So for almost as long as I can remember, I’ve been a catcher. That’s been me as a softball player.” 

Baylor wouldn’t be having the season it’s having without that catcher. From almost the moment Dari Orme arrived at Baylor as a transfer from Fresno State, Moore spoke of the pitcher with the intimidating velocity as the future cornerstone of the program. She had that kind of potential, even as she battled injuries and adjusting to the Big 12 a season ago. 

It’s no coincidence that Orme emerged as a potential all-conference selection this season at the same time that she’s solidified a bond with Collzaos—who has started behind the plate in 22 of Orme’s 25 starts this season. Again, a self-described extrovert bordering on obnoxious, Collazos knows when to trot out to the circle to offer advice or a joke to a pitcher whose own perfectionism sometimes gets in her own way. Orme’s 1.70 ERA this season tells the story. 

“My biggest concern with all of my pitchers is making sure that they’re having fun,” Collazos said. “You could throw the best game of your life or the worst game of your life, but as long as you’re out there enjoying the game, you’re more likely going to have success. Each of them has their little niches, their little things that they do, and I try to appeal to those things differently for each of them. That means a lot to me. Those relationships mean a lot to me.”

Although the throwing issue wasn’t as pronounced in travel ball as it is now, Moore knew there was something different about the way Collazos threw the ball to the pitcher. But it was everything else that set her apart from her peers that made her a prized recruit. 

“The thing that caught my eye to start with was her passion about playing, her intensity, her hustle, her ability to catch,” Moore said. “Before we saw her ability offensively, we saw her arm and quickness, and how she handled pitchers. We liked what we saw back there with her energy—energy is important for us. She checked all the boxes with those characteristics.”

Here’s the thing about the thing

As best Collazos can recall, there is no grand precipitating moment. She didn’t throw the ball back to a pitcher who wasn’t looking and accidentally hit her in the head. She didn’t make a costly mistake. Nothing. All she remembers is waking up one day, in the middle of a travel tournament on the verge of high school, and finding herself stuck after transferring the ball from her glove and beginning to make the casual motion of tossing the ball back to the pitcher. 

It’s 43 feet from the plate to the pitching rubber, probably a few feet less by the time the catcher and pitcher move toward each other after a pitch. That’s a little less than half the distance from the plate to second base, where Collazos could still routinely whip the ball on a line to throw out a runner. But it was as if time and space were suddenly warped in those 43 feet from the plate to the rubber. She couldn’t make her arm do what she had done tens of thousands of times. 

She remembers frantically searching for information online—why it was happening, when it might stop or what she could do. 

A 2015 study defined “yips” as “a psycho-neuromuscular impediment affecting the execution of fine motor skills during sporting performance,” which while long-winded, seems about as useful as any definition for an idea that encompasses a range of physical manifestations. In softball, All-Americans like Canney and Selden either couldn’t or preferred not to throw the ball overhand to first base. In baseball, Sax and Chuck Knoblauch lost the ability to throw to first base from second base, while Mackey Sasser experienced much the same block as Collazos. And that’s just baseball—from putting in golf to shooting free throws in basketball, yips are universal. 

One 2017 research paper that surveyed 242 Division I male and female athletes across 12 sports found that 13 percent experienced some form of the yips during their careers. Golf-specific studies have returned results as high as 30 percent. But confirmation that it happens and that, in one form another, it is not entirely uncommon is one thing. As Collazos discovered, definitive answers for why it happens or how to treat it are still largely missing from research. 

But if Google offered scant solace, she found support on the field. From the outset, her travel coach, James Chandler, made sure she knew he had her back. He didn’t care if she had to kick the ball back to the circle, he would tell her, she was his catcher. She was better at everything else involved in catching than anyone else on his team or any other team. And alongside that faith in her, he never shied away from playfully giving her a hard time about the throws—the same way he gave any player good-natured grief over some ultimately inconsequential quirk. 

“I knew how he felt about me as a player,” Collazos said. “I knew that it wasn’t something that was going to break his image of me, especially at such a young age, when we were getting recruited and I was conscious about what coaches were thinking of me and all that kind of stuff.” 

She learned early on that she had to develop a routine to get around the block. The specifics of the routine would change over time, but for as long as it worked, it had to be the same. She tried any number of work-arounds—even singing to herself behind the plate to try and focus her mind on the lyrics instead of the throw. For the most part, it worked. With a routine, she managed. 

The trouble came when, upon arriving at Baylor, she decided she needed to try and fit in. She wanted to do everything the same way as any other catcher. She didn’t want to be different. Experiencing the same nervousness and insecurity of any freshman adjusting to college, on and off the field, she tried to force herself to “make it totally normal.” Surely, after dealing with it for years, some mind over matter would do the trick. It didn’t. Things spiraled. She got most of her playing time as a freshman as a designated player, spared from having to get behind the plate. 

Moore paired her with a sports psychologist, but they struggled to make any headway. The only thing that proved helpful was routine—even if it’s minus the singing these days. 

“What ultimately helped me was getting back into another routine and doing the same thing over and trying to trust it,” Collazos said. “Right now, I stand up, I take a couple of steps and I lob it back to the pitcher. But I do the same thing every time. Some people don’t like my routine. Whatever, it’s my routine. And I don’t even think about it anymore. I don’t have to think about, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m nervous.’  That’s not a thought that goes through my mind.” 

The best and worst of people

The social media feedback was swift and unforgiving when Baylor played Oklahoma in a recent Big 12 series. 

“Baylor’s catcher pissing anyone else off? What’s up with that pump fake/shot out toss back to the pitcher?”

“So can the Baylor catcher actually throw a ball from behind the plate?”

“Bro this Baylor catcher is ANNOYING.” 

“Is Baylor’s Catcher really left handed? WTF? Who coaches this game delaying technique?”

“As a former shotput thrower, I can confidently say that the Baylor catcher has some work to do. Poor form. Would not make varsity.” 

“A visual aid for the Baylor catcher. Catch it –> throw it back. The end.”

“Yep, rec league. My 7 year old can throw it down to second. come on now.”

“I just realized that I and many other OU Softball fans get to be peeved again watching Baylor’s catcher walk across home plate every time before returning the ball to the pitcher this weekend”

That the series was against Oklahoma is largely immaterial. Oklahoma’s players were nothing but respectful to Collazos, who shares a connection with All-American Kinzie Hansen through catching guru Jen Schroeder and admires the Sooners star. The thoughtless barbs could have come from any team’s fans. The Sooners just happen to have arguably the largest and loudest fan base in the country, which makes the vocal minority that much more easily heard. 

Collazos saw the less-than-constructive feedback, some of it because people even tagged her in the abuse. By now, it rolls off her back. For one thing, when you play enough games in the Big 12, you learn that a certain subset of opposing fans are going to find some reason to give you a hard time. That’s part of the bargain. With experience, she also knows that most of the comments come from ignorance, from simply not understanding anything about the issue. 

“I think the more awareness and the more people speak out on this kind of thing and are comfortable with it themselves, the less likely you’re going to see people dehumanizing athletes on the Internet,” Callozos said. “That’s the one thing I was thinking about [after the OU series]. I’m talking to my mom because my mom was so angry at the messages, like any mother would be. I admire people who come out and speak up about their mental health because it is so important. You see people hurt themselves all the time. And it’s so sad because athletes have become just another form of entertainment to a lot of spectators.”

The external reaction is hardest to deal with in the beginning, she says, when you aren’t used to people in the stands pointing and making comments to each other. When you worry about what your peers will think of you. When you haven’t heard the same jokes a thousand times. 

What gets to a lot of people is the internal criticism, doubt and frustration. For some, dealing with it day after day after day is just too much. They withdraw or stop caring enough to continue working on their skills. Or they walk away entirely. Collazos sounds entirely unembarrassed describing the thing. She’s clinical in how she talks about her routine. She shrugs off most of the comments. Yet even she grew weary of how this one act came to define her—even to herself. 

“I’ll be totally honest, there’s been moments,” Callozos said. “It consumed my mind my freshman year. It consumed me with what I thought of myself as a player. And there were times when I was so frustrated with myself that I just I wanted to quit. I didn’t want to catch anymore. 

“But I’m so glad that I didn’t quit because there’s always the light at the end of the tunnel.” 

Indeed, there are other messages on social media, too. Most of the time, they arrive not for the world to see but as direct messages to one or another of Collazos’ accounts. They express relief at knowing it’s not just them. They want to know more about how long she’s dealt with it, what answers she’s found about why it happens. They ask if she can help them solve the thing

She can’t, of course. While she wishes she could, that’s not how it works. But she can share her story. She can tell them about her routine and why that’s seemed to work well enough for her to get on with playing the game at the highest level. She can tell them what went wrong when she tried to be like everyone else. She can offer empathy, a little advice and maybe even a joke. 

As her pitchers would attest, it’s what a catcher does. 

An opportunity to lead

Even Moore acknowledges he had a learning curve after encountering a player with a similar throwing issue early in his coaching career. He didn’t understand. He was frustrated. It was something so simple. After encountering similar circumstances with at least two more players over the years, he began to see it wasn’t mental weakness or stubbornness or laziness. 

It’s still difficult for him to know exactly how to address it. He winces a little if he hears players good-naturedly make light of it with Collazos, in the normal back-and-forth of a clubhouse. After the initial efforts with the sports psychologist, they mostly settled on not talking about it or worrying about it. Collazos found the routine she needed, and Moore kept writing her name on the lineup card. He’s old school. He tells catchers to get the ball back to the circle as quickly as possible, lest any opponent try and sneak and extra base. But he adjusted. He learned. 

“I think she has kind of a calling, in a sense,” Moore said. “To open a door that’s not been opened and allowed a conversation about it. Now that she’s having the light shined on her, she’s going to be a sense of motivation, encouragement to so many who deal with it.” 

Without Chandler’s unwavering support in travel ball, Collazos might have a different story. Without a college coach willing to grow with her, her difficult freshman year might have led to a different ending. That’s a lot of what she hopes people understand. You don’t need answers. 

“You need a close knit support system,” Collazos said. “There need to be the people who really believe in you and let you experiment to find your routine. That’s something that I think is important, being able to have that freedom to find what works for you.” 

In a world that can feel increasingly short on empathy and understanding, it’s ultimately a message that resonates beyond the yips. Beyond sports. Beyond one throw that doesn’t really matter. We might all do well to watch Collazos the next time she steps out from behind the plate to throw the ball back to the pitcher. As fans and family members in own lives, as coaches and teammates, we might do well to appreciate the courage required to be vulnerable. 

“It’s important to speak out mental health and phenomenons that people might not understand,” Collazos said. “We are human, and we are going to have flaws and we are going to have weaknesses. And it’s important to address those and just educate people.”