PEORIA, Ariz. — The only thing Mark Lowe knew about diabetes, he learned on the bullpen bench from fellow Seattle Mariners relief pitcher Brandon Morrow.
“All I knew was what I learned from watching him prick himself in the bullpen every fifth inning, watching him pump insulin into himself,” Lowe said.
Of course, being one of those nutty relief pitchers, Lowe would needle Morrow about it.
Then Lowe started to feel different himself about a year ago.
He would suddenly lose energy.
Occasionally, he literally couldn’t see straight.
He lost weight, lots of it.
“I would come in some days and be dragging,” Lowe said. “Sometimes in the middle of the day I would hit a wall. Some days, my vision was blurry.”
A test at spring training last year showed that Lowe had a blood sugar imbalance, and he was diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes.
Immediately, Lowe and Morrow became linked by much more than late-inning stress on the mound. And, of course, they found a way to have fun with a serious condition.
“He’d just gotten his glucometer, and we were messing around pricking ourselves and sharing numbers,” Morrow remembers
They made wagers over who could come closest to guessing their blood sugar readings.
“The loser had to eat a bag of cookies,” Lowe joked.
Deep down, nothing is amusing about what either pitcher is going through.
Lowe lost 15 pounds this past offseason, and last week got off the pills and began injecting himself with insulin. He said he has gained back about five pounds during spring training.
Morrow, who learned he was diabetic while in college, controls his blood-sugar with an insulin pump, which is attached to the side of his abdomen.
“Fortunately, when I was diagnosed I had somebody right next to me every day to ask questions to,” Lowe said.
Dr. Mitch Storey, the Mariners’ longtime team physician, said this is the first time the club has had two diabetic players.
“It’s fortunate for Mark that he’s got a guy like Brandon to lean on to help him,” Storey said. “Mark is new at this and he’s not as comfortable as Brandon is. The diabetes is affected by their activity level, so they have to be a lot stricter on their blood sugar monitoring. If it drops, it can affect their performance.”
Being a reliever, Lowe says he will test himself about the fifth inning of every game. Morrow, who finished last season as a starter and may be in the rotation this year, said he tests himself several times before and during a game, using the insulin pump to adjust his blood sugar level.
“I’ll check before I go out to warm up,” Morrow said. “Then I’ll check after I come back in from warming up. If it’s OK, that’ll be the last time I’ll check before the game. I’ll check again after the first inning, and then on depending how I feel.”
Lowe has always treated his diabetes seriously, but he didn’t realize the consequences of it until a trainer told him that Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller had both his legs amputated below the knees because of Type 2 diabetes. Miller died early this year.
“When he told me that, I told him right there, ‘Set me up an appointment. I’ve got to get this under control,’” Lowe said. “It’s scary. I never realized how serious it was.”
This offseason, Lowe found it difficult to get through the day after a hard workout.
“When I got home I would hit a wall. I had nothing left,” he said. “I was really controlling my diet this offseason, which could have made me lose weight, too. It was tough to have energy because there were no carbs going in, no sugars.”
There’s never been a time, Lowe said, when he has felt sorry for himself.
“It was not fun knowing it’s something you’ll have to do the rest of your life, poking yourself with a needle forever,” he said. “But you get over it and know it could be way, way worse. In the longrun, it’s something that will help you — staying in shape, eating right. You have to look at it in the big picture, and I think it’s going to be a very positive thing.”
That’s the mindset both Lowe and Morrow hope all diabetics take in treating their conditions.
“Take it serious. It’s a big deal and it’s your livelihood,” Lowe said. “As you get older, a lot of things can change and you’ve got to take care of it for the longrun.”
“But,” added Morrow. “Don’ t let it hold you back. It’s a serious condition but if you take care of yourself and monitor it, you can be as healthy as anybody else.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog from spring training at www.heraldnet.com