Baseball: Cary-Grove's Meinke stays focused amid life's struggles
Cary-Grove senior pitcher Brandon Meinke is thriving on and off the field despite how difficult the last seven months have been for him and his family.
The youngest of four siblings, Brandon returned to his mother Tracy's home in Cary on Dec. 19 to discover his brother, Joseph Meinke, 26, dead from an accidental overdose.
Joseph had battled drug addiction for years as he tried to self-medicate the depression and anxiety he was diagnosed with while a Prairie Ridge High School student, Tracy said.
Joseph's death was preceded by the passing of Brandon's paternal grandfather in late September.
The family was dealt another blow on April 19, when Tracy's father passed away a week after an apparent stroke.
Brandon has managed to remain focused on the mound. Not a fireballer, the 6-foot-3, 170-pound right-hander relies on location and breaking pitches to keep opposing batters from barreling the baseball. Through Thursday's no-decision against Huntley, he was 5-0 with a 2.58 earned run average in 35⅓ innings over 6 starts.
Also a good student, Brandon scored 1200 on the SAT recently, according to his proud mom.
"He's one of the strongest people I know," Tracy said. "I actually met with his coaches and I said that his mental toughness -- the fact that he can get out there and still excel at sports, do very well at school and get high marks on his SAT ... I don't even know. He's just a strong-willed, mentally strong person."
Brandon said none of it has been easy. Every day remains a struggle. He thinks about his brother each time he comes home and said he feels uncomfortable as a result."
"It's been a difficult road," he said. "I mean, there have been days when it's hard to even wake up in the morning and show up at school because you don't see the point in certain things.
"But I realized that they're all looking down on me and they would want me to be out here doing my best, putting my best foot forward and trying my best. I just come out and pitch for them. I do it in their honor."
"He said he's got all these angels watching over him when he's pitching," Tracy said. "He always says that he feels their presence when he's throwing. He wants to do well because they're with him."
Joseph's death was caused by overuse of an over-the-counter medication he used to obtain a legal high four days after being released from jail, Tracy said. Brandon told his mom that "Joe was trying so hard not to use any illegal drugs. This is why he happened to abuse something he felt was safe. He said that his brother went out on top, that he was able to conquer some of his addictions and he just chose the wrong thing at the wrong time."
Tracy said Joseph got the idea to try the over-the-counter medication from the internet. She warns other parents that "there's a lot of information available nowadays and people can get very creative. They don't always realize the consequences."
The Meinke family believes changes to mental health policy could help people like Joseph, who was in and out of drug rehabilitation for years to stem his abuse, which started with overuse of anti-anxiety pills and spread.
"I don't have all the answers," Tracy said, "but I do believe we need different approaches to mental health issues. They've done away with mental health hospitals, which in some regards is really a good thing. The down side? What do you do with someone who does have mental health issues and does need to be supervised or treated? The insurance companies will allow you to do some inpatient for about three weeks and then you're on your own, even though science will tell you it takes a full year for anyone who has an addiction or abuse issue to recover their brain so they can actually rise above it."
Meanwhile, Brandon won't drink or do a drug, according to his mother. "He actually picks up his friends at parties," she said.
Brandon has been accepted as a student at Arizona State and plans to major in computer science. He'll bring with him a firsthand view of the mental health and drug addiction issues facing this country.
"There's a lot of hurt in the world and sometimes it's not seen," Brandon said. "It's a big issue."