Diabetes and Baseball

Dr. Fran Cogen Health Pro
  • My diabetes "spy," Ann Bartlett, spotted this information that was tucked away in major league baseball news. Dylan Covey, a California right-handed high school pitcher, was about to be drafted as a first round pick by the Milwaukee Brewers. According to www.mlb.com, four days before he was to sign his first professional baseball contract, Dylan learned that he had diabetes. Two days later, prior to Major League final contract negotiations, Dylan learned that there was a 95 percent certainty that he had type 1 diabetes. Thus, according to mlb.com, "facing a lifetime of treatment and major adjustment to his promising baseball career, Dylan declined the Brewers' contract offer and stated that he would attend the University of San Diego."

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    As you know, I am a major baseball aficionado. In addition, we have a philanthropic relationship with the Washington Nationals baseball team in which the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation is a major donor to our future Diabetes Care Complex in Washington, DC. You also may be aware that our superstar pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, also from the University of San Diego, had "Tommy John" surgery and will be rehabbing for 12 to 18 months. Two young pitchers with bright futures struck with vicious curveballs requiring a change of plans.


    I can't help but contrast and compare the differences between these two young pitchers. Stephen Strasburg, has a very serious injury (but surgically repairable) with at least an 80% chance of recovery and has an excellent chance to return to his outstanding form (maybe even better)! Dylan Covey, on the other hand, has been diagnosed with a serious chronic illness with no cure at present electing to attend USD to adapt to his diabetes regimen.


    After hearing of Dylan's diagnosis, I must admit I was fervently hoping that he would sign with the Milwaukee Brewers despite this nasty diabetes curveball. However, knowing the shock that families incur after hearing of this diagnosis, I understand that the family felt that the transition would be easier if he went to university as opposed to playing professional baseball. I wanted to reach out to this young man and tell him that his dreams of pitching in the major leagues are not over. If he truly wants to play, he can. It will, however, require planning.


    There is a precedent for major league baseball pitchers with Diabetes. Brandon Morrow, currently a pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a high school senior in 2003. Brandon notes that the key to his success in "staying on top of his game" is routine. Routine is both essential in both diabetes care and baseball performance. Brandon wears an insulin pump except when he is on the mound and checks blood sugars frequently to prevent lows. He has available carbohydrate with him at all times that includes glucose tabs and sports drinks to prevent dehydration. Jason Johnson is another pitcher who actually wore his insulin pump on the mound while pitching. (Although rumor has it that the umpire asked him to remove his "cell phone" before pitching!)


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    I am hopeful that Dylan will adapt to both a new pitching and diabetes routine during his tenure at the University of San Diego. The key to success while at USD is to learn how pitching affects his blood sugars. He will need to learn management strategies for routine work-outs, warming up, and actually pitching every 4 or 5 days in the rotation. He will learn that blood sugars will react differently during practice versus the excitement of game day, keeping in mind that those counter-regulatory hormones (epinephrine and cortisol) will be in full blast on the days he is pitching. With the support of the USD Baseball coach, Tony Gwynn, I believe that Dylan will not only be coached to become a major league worthy baseball pitcher, but also will be allowed to obtain the much needed experience and skill to manage his diabetes, depending on the situation.


    Dylan (and family): if by chance you read this blog, I would be most happy to serve as your diabetes coach. Play ball!



Published On: September 14, 2010