Diabetes didn't stop local major leaguer, and it shouldn't stop you either
November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. In observance of that, and an attempt to inspire others in the community, we here at Huggins Hospital asked Durham native Sam Fuld to write a first-hand account about how he has been able to live well with Type 1 Diabetes and accomplish his dreams of playing professional baseball. Fuld played eight seasons in the major leagues with the Chicago Cubs, Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland Athletics and Minnesota Twins. He recently hung up the cleats and in November was hired by the Philadelphia Phillies to be their major league player information coordinator.
I found out I had Type 1 diabetes in the fall of 1992 at the age of 10. Even at such a young age, I had my heart set on defying the odds and becoming a professional baseball player. When I was diagnosed, my initial response was one of shock, confusion and sadness. But I was lucky enough to have great support from family, friends and medical staff, and having T1D soon fueled me even more to reach my goals.
Despite the hormone-driven obstacles that every teen faces, I kept laser-focused on my dreams and vowed never to let my T1D get in the way. I checked blood glucose levels frequently throughout the day and especially so when in a baseball uniform. Whether it was 32-degrees in Exeter, or 95 at summer tournaments in Tennessee, I promised myself I would never have to come out of a game as a result of low or high blood sugar.
Soon my dream started to become more of a reality as I went on to accept a scholarship to play at Stanford University. After four wonderful years in Palo Alto, I officially achieved my goal as I was drafted in the 10th round of the MLB draft by the Chicago Cubs. As every professional baseball player can attest, your goal upon signing a contract is to reach the Major Leagues. So my focus shifted from simply getting to the minor leagues to joining the likes of Ron Santo, Catfish Hunter and Bill Gullickson as Major Leaguers with T1D.
With the thrill of being a professional baseball player came the bus rides through the night, subpar and sporadic nutritional options and the stress of having to perform at an elite level every day. All very real challenges for everyone, but incredibly so for a Type 1 diabetic. I remember one late, delirious night on a bus in Nowhere, USA, where I woke up from a nap and had forgotten whether or not I had given myself my nightly Lantus injection. I decided that I hadn’t...but soon discovered that I was wrong. The next day was quite an adventure having to play with 40 units of working Lantus rather than my normal 20, and lots and lots of Gatorade!
In September of 2007, I accomplished something I never in my wildest dreams thought I would. With the Chicago Cubs in the midst of a playoff race against the St. Louis Cardinals, they decided to call me up to the big league team. I’ll never forget that first jog into the outfield at a raucous Wrigley Field; my warm up throws with the bullpen catcher in between innings barely reached him, as I could hardly feel my arms and legs I was so nervous. And of course my glucose levels didn’t respond too well to the moment -- I believe I started the inning at 150 and finished it at about 280.
Despite those nervous beginnings, I would go on to play parts of eight seasons in the Major Leagues with four different clubs. Each of those four organizations brought special, unique experiences. But it was my time playing for the Tampa Bay Rays where I really took advantage of my platform as a T1D professional athlete. With the help of a great number of people, I started a T1D sports camp at the University of South Florida, which enters into its seventh year this February. Accompanying this camp is a WIFFLE ball tournament I hold in conjunction with the great non-profit, SLAMT1D. And this July I plan to expand my camp to Durham, on the fields that I grew up running around on.
As I look back at my playing career, it is these endeavors that I am most proud of. The sense of empowerment that our campers, counselors and coaches feel goes so far in battling this frustrating, dangerous, wretched disease. I encourage every T1D to explore opportunities to engage with others who face the same challenges -- whether it’s at a camp, WIFFLE ball tournament or simply online. We all have varied dreams and goals, but I feel confident saying that those aspirations become much more realistic with the help of many others.
Do you need help with diabetes or prediabetes? Huggins Hospital's Certified Diabetes Educators are here for you! Learn more.