As long as I can remember, I’ve been a baseball fan.
I started swinging a bat and throwing a baseball just about the same time I was diagnosed with type 1 back when I was 5 years old, and for the next decade or so baseball was my world.
As I got older, I sort of fell out of it and took up other sports and several not-so-physical activities that kept me indoors in the newspaper offices more often than not.
But still, my love for baseball never faded.
That’s why I’ve kept my eye on the game and taken a particular interest in those players who not only make it to the major leagues, but are also living with type 1 just like me. There have been many through the years and there’s a roster of them playing now, including Tampa Bay Rays’ outfielder Sam Fuld, who was diagnosed at age 10 and is actually taking part in an American Diabetes Association-organized Twitter chat this afternoon! He’s on Twitter at @SamFuld5 and the chat will use the hashtag #SuperSamChat starting today at 2 p.m. Eastern Time.
It’s also been cool to keep tabs on other pro baseball players like Brandon Morrow, who is with the Toronto Blue Jays at the moment and (like me many years ago) finds his place on the pitcher’s mound. The 28-year-old from Santa Rosa, CA, was diagnosed a decade ago in 2003 just as he was eying his entry into the Major League Baseball world.
I’ve followed his pitching career off and on during the past decade and kept an eye on any particular D-aspects — in particular the connection Brandon back when he was playing for the Seattle Mariners. His teammate then was pitcher Mark Lowe, who also lives with diabetes, and who was initially misdiagnosed as a type 2 before learning a year later he was type 1. The two played on the Mariners together until they were traded to other teams in 2010.
One of his sponsors is a new “diabetes-friendly” high-performance sports drink called BioSteel. Brandon has been using it for about 2 years, and I’ve noticed his talking about it periodically. Thanks to the people promoting that sports drink, we got the chance to connect by email to “talk little about his overall baseball career, life with diabetes, and of course a little about the impact this drink has on his D-management while out on the field.”
Now that we’ve hit July, the near half-point mark of the pro baseball season (which is officially the All-Star Game on July 16), it’s a perfect time to feature an interview with this pro pitcher who’s also living with type 1.
Here’s what he had to say about baseball and type 1, thanks to an “email game of Q&A catch” recently:
DM) Your diagnosis story has been written about many times, but please tell us about that again and how it may have impacted your baseball dreams?
BM) I was conditioning for baseball in the spring of 2003 with a few of my teammates and I was complaining about all the strange symptoms I had been having: dehydration, frequent urination, blurred vision, etc. A friend had recently done a research paper about diabetes and recognized those as the symptoms. I saw the doctor the next day and was diagnosed with type 1. Really, I don’t think it has impacted my baseball dreams at all. I never thought about it as something that was going to stop me from playing and I always had a really strong support group around me.
My management has really changed the most based on where Ive been slated to pitch. I’ve had different routines when I’m a starter or reliever and that was one of the biggest things when I was traded to Toronto. They told me I was going to be starting only and that really helped me with the consistency of my management.
(Editor’s note: I can relate to this, from my younger years: Sitting for six or seven innings at the start and only throwing off to the side wasn’t nearly as intense or nerve-wracking, so my sugars weren’t impacted as much until I was actually on the mound. Of course, all bets were off if I was put into the outfield and running around out there…)
What’s your diabetes routine for practices and games look like?
On days I’m not pitching, I check my blood sugar before and after working out and periodically throughout the game. On game day, my routine starts about four hours before the game when I get to the field. I check my sugars and eat, relax for a while, check my sugars again at 90 minutes prior to the game and eat a protein bar. I check my sugars before I begin my pregame bullpen, then once more before the game begins. I allow myself about five extra minutes after I throw in case of a drop in my sugar level. Once the game begins, I find that my levels plateau and I just check the first couple of innings. If I go deep in the game, I’ll check again around the 6th or 7th inning.
Where do you like to keep your blood sugars at, going into a game and then during the time you’re on the mound?
I like my blood sugar level to be between 115 and 130 for the start of the game. That way I feel good and comfortable that I won’t be dropping off suddenly.
You’re well-known in the baseball world for your velocity… If anything, what have you seen in regard to pitching speed or ability as your blood sugars change?
I haven’t found any connection, really. I’ve only been really low in one game that I can remember and I ended up getting through the inning and pitching the rest of the game. I’ve also only been really high in one game that I can think of and don’t remember it affecting my ability on the mound. I wouldn’t connect blood sugar and radar readings.
What insulin pump do you use? And do you still remove it before hitting the mound as you mentioned in previous interviews?
I use a Medtronic pump. I only wore it in games once or twice when I first got it in college. I didn’t like the feeling of restriction with the pump tube snaked through my uniform and I haven’t worn it on the field since.
Ever think of using the tubeless OmniPod?
No. The Medtronic (pump) has been good for me and I haven’t had a desire to change, I’m comfortable with the controls and how to make adjustments with it when needed.
(Editor’s Note: We weren’t able to find out if Brandon has thought about wearing a CGM, but it seems that he might have a similar feeling about that D-device as how he prefers to not wear a pump on the field.)
The great part about BioSteel is that it doesn’t impact my blood sugar levels. That’s the big problem with nearly all the other sports drinks available, they all rely on sugars to flavor or mask the flavor of their product. BioSteel delivers the amino acids and electrolytes without adding anything to drive up my glucose levels.
As a baseball fan, I’ve been really impressed with how you’ve grown as a pitcher, especially in the past year or two… Can you talk a little about that? And as you’ve developed your pitching, has diabetes management changed up at all?
My diabetes management is always changing. I’m always adjusting my basal rates or learning about how a certain food is affecting my sugar levels. It’s the same with baseball: if you don’t grow and adapt to the game it, making necessary changes to compete than the opposition is going to have the upper hand. You can’t be content in what you are, you always have to keep learning.
You mentioned just a few High or Low experiences on the field… How did your teammates respond?
I was low during the first inning of a game in college against UCLA. It was a long time ago now but I remember being dizzy and feeling weak. I made it through that inning and was able to regroup and continue. My teammates have always been supportive about diabetes, and thankfully I’ve never given them any reason to be concerned.
Do you have advice for other athletes as far as achieving their dreams despite diabetes?
I always recommend developing a simple routine for the days you compete. When you have a program that works for you it will give you confidence that you’ll be feeling good and able to perform at your highest level. Eating the same thing leading up to game time is an easy way to take much of the guesswork out of how much insulin you will be needing. Once you learn how your body is going to react to those foods it allows you to be a lot more confident in your insulin adjustments.
Thanks for taking the time to play ball with us, Brandon! I very much enjoyed our email exchange, and it’s incredibly inspiring to hear how type 1 diabetes hasn’t slowed you down one bit. Diabetes aside, I know you’ve been dealing with some right forearm inflammation, so I hope that clears up and you can make it back to the mound before long!