Rays’ outfielder Sam Fuld, left, gets ready to tee off in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation golf tournament in Belleair with JDRF Executive Director Carolyn Boos, center, and Tournament organizer Mike Wisniewski.
BELLEAIR – It isn’t any fun to discover when you are 10 years old that you have diabetes and your life is going to change forever. Just ask Sam Fuld, outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays who was that 10-year-old back in New Hampshire.
“It is an incredible burden,” he said. “It changes your life, day to day. It isn’t just the pricking of your finger to check your blood or the injections of insulin. It is also a mental thing, a constant, it is tough for people of any age.”
Fuld made the remarks during an interview at the Belleair Country Club on Jan. 11, where he was the chairman of the second annual Fight for a Cure Golf Tournament on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
He said his diabetes was not something that kept him down even as he grew older and was a multi-sport athlete.
“I really didn’t change a thing. I stayed just as active as ever and played soccer and basketball as well as baseball,” he said.
However, he said that baseball is probably the best sport for a diabetic.
“There is some down time in baseball, time for you to check your blood,” Fuld said.
The golf tournament is part of a weekend long series of activities organized by Mike Wisniewski, the president of the National Aviation Academy in Largo.
His son, Kyle, 11, was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 2 years old. As a result, finding a cure is at the top of his mind for Wisniewski.
“Having a diabetic in the family is a 24/7 responsibility, it never leaves your mind,” he said. “We had to get up at 2 in the morning to monitor his blood level. You are always monitoring and checking the blood sugar. But it is all about trying to do everything in life that we would be doing without it.”
Through his aviation academy Wisniewski started a car show, which was held on Saturday the day after the golf tournament, and a career fair on the day before the tournament. All the proceeds go to JDRF.
“We’re not saying a cure for diabetes is right around the corner like we used to say,” he said. “And while we’re funding research work toward finding a cure, we’re also supportive of efforts to prevent the disease and that in its own way is a cure. We’re trying to make life for diabetics as good as we can.”
The executive director of JDRF, Carolyn Boos, paid tribute to Wisniewski and others for their work.
“Every event they organize and hold puts us one step closer to finding a cure,” she said. “Our families are deeply involved with the organization; it is a personal mission for many of them.”
It is also, obviously, a personal mission for Fuld, who is as dedicated as anyone else toward the cause. Perhaps his play in the field is an indication how he views the fight against diabetes, with hustle and hard work. In fact you can’t sit down with Fuld without talking a little baseball and he’s ready.
He said he likes the Rays’ chances this year.
“It is scary to think how good our division (American League East) is,” he said. “Look at what the Blue Jays did in the offseason and who would have predicted the Orioles would have come on strong like they did last year. Our team on paper is as good as ever.”
He credits his manager for that.
“Joe (Madden) can get the most out of guys,” he said. “And the front office is a Moneyball type organization; they are always going to make sure we’re competitive.”
Fuld said he was sorry to see James Shields go, traded to Kansas City in the off-season.
“He was a huge component to this team,” Fuld said. “He led the rotation. He was a tremendous person, so dominant. He was a good leader and a good guy.”
As for himself and his style of play, Fuld said he really didn’t have a choice.
“I realized early on that I was not going to be a big person so I had to hustle to make it.”
In fact if there is anything about his game that Fuld takes exception with, it is the lack of hustle on the part of some players.
“I understand it, but I don’t agree with it,” he said. “We should never be satisfied with anything until we go all out. That is the way this game should be played.”
Then Fuld returned to the reason he was in Belleair at the golf tournament, to help raise money for diabetes research. He said as devastating as it was discovering he had diabetes, he was able to get through it with support.
“My family gave me all the support in the world,” he said. “But they also taught me to be realistic; there is no getting rid of this, so live your life.”
One of the things that Fuld does now is get very involved in JDRF to help others. The fact that he is a major league baseball player is important for youngsters who look up to him. And he has a message for them. He says it is a simple message.
“I stress the importance of being positive and optimistic,” he said. “Minimize the moments of feeling sorry for yourself and don’t let anything stop you.”