Fuld running down big league dream
Diabetes can't stop Cubs outfielder from competing for job
MESA, Ariz. -- When Ron Santo sees Sam Fuld, he can't help but be a little jealous.
It's not that the 70-year-old former Cubs third baseman and current broadcaster wants to play center field or make the daredevil catches like Fuld. Santo and Fuld are both Type 1 diabetics, but that's where the similarities end.
Santo, who has had both legs amputated because of complications with diabetes, hid the fact that he had the disease because he was afraid he would be considered weak. Fuld will pull out his blood sugar monitor whenever he feels the need to check his levels, whether he's in the clubhouse or the dugout. Santo never had that option. He ate candy bars to keep his energy level up.
"We've come so far," Santo said Tuesday. "When I was diagnosed, there was no money going toward diabetes research. Doctors didn't know diabetes. Now, you've got endocrinologists, you've got insulin, you've got the pump, you've got the [glucometer]. If I'd had all of that, I'd have played longer, no doubt about it."
Diabetes has never stopped Fuld, 28, from pursuing his dream of being a big league ballplayer.
Some people discover they have diabetes because of something traumatic. Sometimes, they pass out. Fuld was a 10-year-old kid who was losing weight fast.
"I was thirsty all the time, going to the bathroom all the time, just classic symptoms of Type 1 diabetes," he said. "My parents knew enough after a couple months to take me in to the doctor. Luckily, I didn't find out the hard way, I found out through a simple urine test."
He didn't know too much about the disease at that point.
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"The only person or thing I knew with diabetes was somebody's cat," he said. "I had no idea what it entailed. I thought, maybe it's like asthma or something and I do something once or twice a day and it's simple. Obviously, it's a little more complex than puffing on an inhaler."
He tests his blood sugar at least six times a day. Doctors have told him he can do whatever he wants as long as he monitors himself.
"I knew it would be a challenge from the beginning," Fuld said, "but I got great support all along and there was never a doubt in my mind that it would slow me down athletically."
This offseason, he was a guest speaker at Cubs pitcher Randy Wells' fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. He's donated items to the Cubs' Minor League teams when they have events to raise money for JDRF.
"I enjoy meeting young diabetic kids and just speaking with them," Fuld said. "You'd like to make a difference on a larger scale, but when you get that intimate, one-on-one connection with a kid, that feels pretty good, too."
That personal interaction helped Fuld. When he was 12, Rich Gale, who was a friend of Fuld's family and the pitching coach for the Boston Red Sox, introduced Fuld to pitcher Bill Gullickson, who has diabetes. The conversation only lasted a couple minutes, but it was long enough.
"That inspired me a lot," Fuld said. "Just meeting him and having that interaction with him really meant a lot to me. He didn't give me any groundbreaking advice, but just meeting somebody like that really inspired me. I remember that. That's why it's important for me to do the same."
It motivated Fuld, who now finds himself dealing with another battle. The Cubs are looking for an extra outfielder. The list is down to four: Fuld, Tyler Colvin, Jim Adduci and Brad Snyder. Colvin is batting .533 (16-for-30), and was leading the Cactus League after play on Tuesday. Adduci is 8-for-23, and Snyder is 5-for-12. Fuld is hitting .150 (3-for-20).
"It's been disappointing to this point," Fuld said. "It hasn't gone exactly how I had hoped. Hopefully, I get some more opportunities. I don't think it's a matter of me pressing too much. I just haven't been playing well, and that happens sometimes."
Last year, he played in 65 games with the Cubs and hit .299. He still gets asked about his face-first slam into the wall at Dodger Stadium last August. Somehow, he held onto the ball. Hitting, though, is the concern this spring. Fuld has been working with coaches Rudy Jaramillo and Von Joshua, spending as much time in the cage as he can.
"I'm going to attack it and be aggressive -- that's my nature," he said. "I try to do as much work as possible and try to figure things out."
Which is also how he's dealing with diabetes. The entire process of checking his blood sugar takes about 30 seconds.
"Baseball is a good sport for it," Fuld said. "You have a lot of downtime in the dugout. I feel like I'm on top of it, I know where my blood sugar is at at all times, certainly throughout the course of the game and generally speaking throughout the course of the day.
"It's obviously even more important to know where you stand and keep good care of it while you're playing. I haven't had any experience where I've had low blood sugar, and I've never felt it's affected me in any at-bat or any sort of situation."
A misconception is that one is hyper when the blood sugar is high because people associate a lot of sugar with energy. Fuld said when his blood sugar is high, he's actually weak and lethargic.
What's important is that he recognizes the symptoms and it's not holding him back.
"I know [Santo] had it a lot harder than me," Fuld said. "There was more of a stereotype associated with the disease back then and he had to hide it. I'm not uncomfortable telling anyone or doing what I need to do. Those days are long gone. When I was young, I'd be a little embarrassed about pulling out my meter in class. I learned to grow comfortable with it pretty quickly."
It's definitely a conversation starter in the clubhouse the first time you see Fuld prick his finger to check his blood sugar level. Now, it's part of his daily routine.
"It's always on your mind," he said. "It's something that's always there, wondering where my sugar's at, especially when you're working out in an environment like this. If anything, it's more of a mental struggle than anything. The shots don't bother me, the finger pricking doesn't bother me. It's just the daily mental battle that can kind of wear you out."
He's not thinking about any of that when he's patrolling center field or chasing fly balls.
"For those brief moments, it's out of my mind," Fuld said. "I get back to the dugout and it definitely crosses my mind. 'OK, my face is intact -- what about my sugar?'"
Santo and Fuld talk often about dealing with the disease.
"There's no doubt in my mind that Sam is handling it beautifully," Santo said.
Fuld and his wife, Sarah, welcomed their first child, Charlie, this offseason. Sam knows if his son is diagnosed with diabetes, the medicine and technology will be even further advanced and Charlie can do whatever he wants, such as becoming a Major League ballplayer.
"He'll be OK," Fuld said. "He'll have somebody to lean on, that's for sure."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.