It's amazing what Chicago Cubs pitcher Scott Eyre can do with a baseball and what Los Angeles Clippers center Chris Kaman has accomplished in the NBA – amazing because both of them have a real problem.
"I was constantly in trouble," says the 7-foot-tall Kaman.
"No coaches ever said anything," says Eyre, a 33-year-old left-hander. "They just thought I was spacey."
Both men have a real problem concentrating. Both suffer from attention deficit disorder.
The disease affects 4 to 5 percent of all children in America, and most of them never outgrow it. But researchers have found the percentage is even higher among pro athletes: 8 to 10 percent.
Researchers think it's because those who have trouble with academics in school turn to sports to compensate. But it catches up with them when they get to the pro level.
"They're not playing as well as they should," says Dr. Sanford Silverman. "Their career is cut short. I worked with one professional baseball player, a pitcher, who told me his career was cut short not by age, but because he was having problems focusing."
Eyre didn't know he had ADD until four years ago, when he was pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays. But he knew beforehand that something was wrong.
"I had to adjust my hat 10 different times, pull my sweatshirt, and I'd move so much that I expended more energy in between pitches than actually pitching," he says.
Watch tapes of Eyre pitching and you can see how many distractions Eyre found during the game. He couldn't tune out the umpire, the fan in the stands or even a spot on the wall.
But now that he's on medication, he's become one of the best middle relievers in the game.
Kaman was diagnosed as a child with the disorder, which is believed to be hereditary. He took medication as a kid but stopped when he started college. He didn't like the side effects – which means more work for him.
"I find myself looking over here, looking over there and then I'm like, 'Oh! He's talking,'" Kaman says.
Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy notices.
"He can drift, and sometimes he doesn't exactly understand what you're saying," Dunleavy says. "This guy is visual. If you show him, he can do it. If you verbalize, hit or miss."
Kaman is a big hit with fans — and a role model for the hyper, distracted kids who act like he used to.
"Any kids out there, I'd tell them try and do what you can," Kaman says. "If you need the medication, you need the medication. I didn't want to take a pill for the rest of my life."
The center and the pitcher are grown-up success stories because each, in his own way, has found a way to stay focused. And in the process, both have found a way to make it in the big leagues.