This time of year is always exciting for me, as it's the start of baseball season once again!
I'm a huge baseball fan, having played competitively as a kid and enjoyed it on radio and TV most of my life. So it's always fun when the season rolls around to start cheering again for my home-state team, the Detroit Tigers (currently one of the top teams in baseball, though it's very early in the season).
With diabetes obviously also being a big part of my life, it's always been fascinating for me when the two collide. Two seasons ago, I had the privilege of talking with MLB (major league baseball) pitcher Brandon Morrow, who was diagnosed in 2003 at age 18. And lately, it seems there's been a surge of interest in baseball players with diabetes, including:
- Sam Fuld: who now plays center field for the Oakland A's and was diagnosed as a kid with T1D. He hosts a sports camp for children in his former stomping grounds in Tampa Bay, FL, mentoring young athletes with type 1.
- Cory Vaughn: an outfielder for the New York Mets, who was diagnosed at age 11; he was recently featured on the Sanofi blog, The DX.
- Baseball legend Lou Brock: a T2 who's been on the speaking circuit for Novo recently, talking about his days playing for the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs. He was featured in an interview on Type 2 Nation in early April. Lou was diagnosed in the 90s, but also recalls the days decades ago when he played ball with fellow Hall of Famer Ron Santos, a type 1 who didn't publicly share anything about his diabetes in those days.
- Dmitri Young: a former pro outfielder who played for St. Louis, Detroit (!), Cincinatti, and Washington before leaving baseball. He's featured in this past January's edition of Diabetes Forecast, talking about his type 2 diagnosis in 2006 and how he's recently taken a more proactive approach to managing his health.
But for me one, of the most interesting stories involves a college athlete who could make it to the pros in the next months, depending on how the MLB Draft plays out in early June.
His name is Adam Boghosian, from Cary, North Carolina.
Diagnosed in 2008 at the age of 16, Adam has been playing baseball since he was a kid and is now a hot prospect for the major leagues. He attends the University of North Greenville in South Carolina, where he's a senior working to catch the attention of pros -- especially with his 95 mph fastball! On top of that, he's raised more than $30,000 for the JDRF in the past several years by selling baseball attire online, which he says could morph into a real business at some point... if his pro baseball hopes don't materialize.
We connected with Adam recently for this Q&A about his love of baseball and life with diabetes and how they intersect.
DM) Tell us about your diagnosis?
AB) Every diagnosis story has generally the same key points. I was very thirsty, I frequently had to use the restroom, and I felt tired and weak. My symptoms became so severe that my mother and one of my friends decided to search the web for answers. Type 1 diabetes was the first result to our search. I read through the symptoms, giving each one a mental check, and I began feeling worried and confused. I have been an athlete all my life, and I've always associated diabetes with overweight older people, so I kept telling myself there must be a mistake. The last symptom on the list was weight loss, so I jumped on the scale. To my surprise, I had lost 30 pounds without even realizing it. I was 16 years old, 6’2”, and 140 pounds just starting my junior year in high school.
Was it traumatic for you?
Yes. When my blood test came back confirming my diagnosis of type 1, my world was turned upside-down. I found myself thinking about my life, my health, and the great inconvenience of the incurable disease -- that became my reality rather than thinking about hanging out with friends, playing sports, and having fun like most college students. I stayed at the University of North Carolina Pediatric Hospital for a week learning to manage my new disease.
The one high note during my tragic September of 2008 was my last meal as a non-diabetic. Many type 1s remember the last meal they had before being diagnosed with diabetes, and mine was great! I chowed down on numerous chocolate chip pancakes smothered in syrup, fresh fruit, and juice (more sugar than I can even calculate).
Where are you at now, school-wise?
I am currently at North Greenville University pursuing my MBA. I'm also a member of the baseball team at North Greenville, which is the reason I ended up attending the small school in Tigerville, South Carolina. The recently hired head coach, Landon Powell, is the son of my American Legion coach when I was in high school. He called me as soon as he was hired and told me to come play for him for my final year of baseball eligibility. I had just graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and still have another year of baseball to play since I was redshirted (granted an extension) my freshman year due to Tommy John Surgery (tendon replacement in the elbow).
How long have you been playing baseball?
All of my life except for a five-year period during middle school where I decided to play football instead. After being hit in the head with a bat in second grade and requiring stitches to close the large hole in my forehead, I wanted to experience some new sports for a while. Eventually I found that baseball was my true passion and began playing competitively again. It became clear that was a good decision after throwing a perfect game in the second game I played after just returning to baseball in seventh grade. Ever since, I’ve played year-round.
Baseball has been a huge part of my life. I have met numerous influential people, made tons of lifelong friends, and have some of the best memories I will think of fondly of for the rest of my life. With baseball meaning so much to me and with my talent for the game, it makes hanging up the cleats difficult to think about. Baseball has given me so much and taught me even more, so I plan to play for as long as I can.
You must be excited about the draft coming up in June. But what if things don't work out?
If I am able to be drafted, my plans will be to pursue professional baseball, and ride it out as long as I can, hopefully making it to the big leagues! If professional baseball is not in the cards, I hope to work with JDRF. I have volunteered with them since 2008 and have met many great people along the way. I would love to take all of the fundraising efforts I have done through the years and make it a career rather than a hobby.
With a 95 mph fastball, many think you've got a good chance at being drafted...
Unfortunately it's not up to me, but my plan is to continue working hard and improving each day to better my chances of playing professionally and continuing my baseball career.
How do you manage diabetes while you're out there playing?
The burden of diabetes does not go away when on a baseball field. My diabetes management is ingrained into my daily routine. I have a continuous glucose monitor that helps out with blood sugar control. I like to have a small snack before practice to avoid lows during long days on the field. My goal is to keep my blood sugar between 120 - 140 while playing, although I like being slightly elevated to keep my hands steady and my legs strong when throwing. Everyone is extremely supportive and keeping my diabetes managed is truly a team effort.
What diabetes technology do you use?
I always use my continuous glucose monitor. I do not use a pump.
And do you do anything special for your diabetes during games?
I am the closer on my team, which means I pitch the last inning of games. I like a snack around the 2nd inning, I head to the bullpen around the 6th inning, to ensure perfect blood sugar by the 8th inning, and drink about 8 ounces of Gatorade right before pitching the 9th inning. It seems to be a winning recipe as my performance has shown.
Are there any athletes with diabetes you look up to, for inspiration along the lines of "You Can Do This"?
I've always been a very independent diabetic in the sense that I like to manage it relatively alone. I do not look up to any other diabetic athlete since I don’t believe it’s a big deal. Diabetes should never hold anyone back, so I just look at it as something I have to do. I don’t need inspiration to pursue my goals. Diabetes is not holding me back in any way.
What exactly is Team BOGO and how did it get started?
Bogo is my nickname. I’m convinced that a number of my friends don’t even know my real name. Bogo is short for my last name Boghosian (Bo-go-shin), and the nickname has really stuck.
Team Bogo was started almost immediately after I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on September 12, 2008. There was an upcoming JDRF walk in October in Raleigh, NC, that I wanted to create a team for, to be as proactive about my new disease as possible. Team Bogo consisted of about 20 people and produced about $2,000 for the JDRF that first walk, through Team Bogo T-shirt sales and donations from friends and family.
Today, Team Bogo is a fundraising team of hundreds of diabetes-hating individuals, and we provide funds for the JDRF to ultimately find a cure. Team Bogo has now also become a brand of sorts that people get really passionate about. The nature of my Team Bogo apparel caters to young adults and college-goers. The slogans on the shirts can be slightly inappropriate at times, but it's all in good fun and makes for a good laugh while striving to cure a serious disease.
What kind of inappropriate?
Our shirts have highlighted slogans such as: “Kicking Diabetes in the Pancre-ass,” “Get Insulin Pumped!,” “Helping to Eliminate Pricks Since 2008,” “Diabadass,” and many more. Team Bogo shirts and accessories such as wristbands, shorts, pullovers, hats, stickers, koozies, and other accessories have been spread all over thanks to dedicated friends selling my brand at their own colleges and to friends.
Sounds like the team's been incredibly successful...
Team Bogo has raised over $30,000 through merchandise sales, donations, and events. Team Bogo would be nothing without the continued support of friends and family, and I cannot thank those dedicated people enough!
Are you starting a business, or is this simply a fundraising project for JDRF?
As it stands, Team Bogo is a fundraising project for JDRF, although with its exponential growth, it very well could become something much bigger. I plan to continue working on and improving Team Bogo, and we'll see where it can go.
Any thoughts on establishing a baseball or sports camp for kids with diabetes, as may D-athletes have done?
That is something I want to do. As a student-athlete who has gone through college and played a sport day-in and day-out, I have a lot of insight I want to share with the younger generation and their parents. I know my mom was very worried about me going off to college and being more independent with my life, including my diabetes. I have provided a great deal of help and information to young people diabetes who've connected me with. I would love to do that for more people out there!
Thanks for everything you do, Adam, and whether you want to be or not, you're definitely an inspiration for so many! Good luck with the upcoming MLB draft -- we'll be cheering for you!