Trying to Make it to the Show with Type 1 Diabetes

Pitcher Mark Blackmar uses a can’t-quit-won’t-quit attitude to maintain blood sugar control and stay on the mound in the minor leagues.



This spring training, pitcher Mark Blackmar does not have the same luxury of having a bad outing as Washington Nationals’ star pitchers Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg. That’s because Mark is playing on a minor league contract with the Nationals’ organization.

“All we know is we’re playing for a spot,” said Mark in a telephone interview with Insulin Nation. “I have to show up every day and show them what I’ve got.”

The only way for Mark, who has Type 1 diabetes, to do that is to stay on top of his game when it comes to his blood sugar levels. Luckily, he’s had a lot of practice, as he has had to contend with diabetes for about as long as he’s focused on baseball.

Read about Sam Fuld, the seemingly fearless outfielder with Type 1 diabetes.

Mark’s father is a pro golfer and his mother could have turned pro but chose not to. Mark juggled baseball and golf seasons throughout much of his childhood. When Mark was 13 years old, his father made him choose between golf and baseball, and Mark chose baseball. Three years later, he began to lose weight rapidly.

“I had lost, like, 30 pounds, but we thought it was just from running a bunch,” he said.

Luckily, his mother connected the dots and asked for a blood sugar test. Mark’s diagnosis came right after that. For the first time in his life since toddlerhood, Mark took a season off from baseball. He needed to learn about how to treat his Type 1 diabetes. However, he says he always knew he would return to the field of play.

Read “Softball Player Kicked Off Team Because of Type 1 Diabetes”.

“It wasn’t really ever a question,” he said.

Mark has had two advantages when it has come to managing his Type 1 diabetes. The first, he says, is his supportive family, including his parents and his wife, Savannah Blackmar. Savannah has been with Mark since his diagnosis and has helped him with it from the beginning; she is the one tasked with making Mark test in the middle of the night if she suspects a low. Mark also said that Savannah will even go so far as to bring a slightly bigger purse on a night out so he can have an easy way to carry his meter and low supplies.

The second advantage Mark has is his competitive nature. One need only scroll through his Twitter account to see that life is a 24/7 competition for him. Whether it’s discussing trophy size or pickup foosball games, there are few times when the tweets aren’t about the thrill of competition. Mark says even his friends can’t quite understand the level of which he maintains his competitive drive off the baseball field.

“You can’t just turn it on or off,” he said.

Instead, he channels it, and that has helped him hone his blood sugar management skills. Mark has developed a good game-day routine for injection times and meals – he will eat a larger, carb-heavy meal in the later morning and then a lighter low-carb, protein-centered meal a few hours before game-time, for example, to avoid blood sugar swings. He uses a continuous glucose monitor off and on throughout the season and checks his blood sugar before and during games to make sure that nothing interferes with his performance on the mound. His spirit of competition helps him deal with the ups and downs that come with Type 1 diabetes. It’s not about getting perfect blood sugar scores, he finds; it’s about picking yourself up and trying again when highs and lows happen.

“You can have tough days and stuff happens, and it’s easy to just fold up and be angry, but if you kind of push yourself and practice every day…it’s a good feeling a week later when everything goes well,” he said.

Mark, his wife, Savannah, and their dog, Sadie.

It’s an attitude that has served Mark well in his professional career, too. There are several thousand human beings alive on this world who have the talent to play professional baseball, and all but a handful of them fail to achieve superstar status. Mark is one of many who commutes to work on long bus trips to play in minor league stadiums in hopes of breaking through to the majors. He has played for a handful of minor league teams, and even did a stint last year in independent league baseball before being signed by the Nationals. As of this writing, he doesn’t know in what city he will play the 2017 baseball season.

“It kind of builds character and kind of lets you know who you are,” he said.

Inevitably, there are days of doubt during the baseball season, especially on the road after a rough outing. Again, Mark credits his family for keeping his spirits up, and he wants to return the favor by being an example to children with Type 1 diabetes.

“I hate hearing about whenever kids are handcuffed by diabetes,” he said. “I want to make sure people know they can go for it.”

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Craig Idlebrook is managing editor for Insulin Nation and Type 2 Nation. He's written about health policy, environmental health, community health, and maternal health for over 25 publications. You can reach him at cidlebrook@epscomm.com.