Mark Lowe – The Playoffs Pitcher with Type 1

Each year, baseball’s playoffs are filled with unlikely heroes. This year’s might be Mark Lowe, and that would be a win for people with Type 1 diabetes everywhere.

Lowe, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes during the 2008 baseball season, has endured a string of injuries and bounced around between various minor league and major league teams in recent years. He was looking to resurrect his career when he signed a minor league contract with the Seattle Mariners, and he started the year with their minor league AAA team, the Tacoma Rainers.

He soon made the big league club and enjoyed a career year, posting great numbers, first for the Mariners and then for the Toronto Blue Jays. He now has become an indispensible member of the Blue Jays’ corp of relief pitchers as the team prepares for its first entry into the playoffs in 22 years.

It’s a great turn of events for the 32-year-old pitcher, who came out of college as a sought-after prospect and moved up to the big leagues in just two years after starting his professional baseball career. Just as Lowe was establishing himself for the first time with a big league club, again the Mariners, he had to confront a diabetes diagnosis. Worse, it was at first an incorrect one.

During spring training in 2008, blood tests showed Lowe had elevated blood glucose levels. He was given a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes and given medical treatment for that condition. Taking the diagnosis seriously, he watched his diet and dropped weight that he really couldn’t afford to lose. 15 pounds lighter, he still felt weak and dizzy, and his blood sugar levels were out of control. Eventually, his diagnosis was switched to Type 1, and he started insulin therapy.

A late-in-life Type 1 diagnosis is difficult enough, but Lowe had to balance it with a career as a professional athlete. Luckily, along with the support of good medical staff, he had a blood brother in the bullpen in Brandon Morrow, a fellow pitcher with Type 1 who had been dealing with diabetes since he was a senior in high school. According to a 2009 ESPN report, Morrow helped Lowe learn the basics of blood sugar management, and the two even had a friendly competition about who could most correctly guess their blood sugar levels.

Lowe has enjoyed some success since that time, including pitching in two consecutive World Series, but he also has dealt with a series of injuries. He’s had two elbow surgeries in his career, and they have robbed his pitches of triple-digit velocity. Since those surgeries, he has had a hard time sticking with one ballclub, and he was fighting to extend his career as he came into the 2015 season.

All that he has done this season is dominate batters as one of the best relief pitchers in the big leagues. Here’s a prime example:

Baseball observers point to the fact that Lowe has honed his pitching arsenal, which once included five different pitches, to two devastating ones. It can’t be overlooked that he’s been healthy, as well. In either case, Lowe’s performance was good enough that he became a sought-after commodity during the baseball trade deadline. The Seattle Mariners traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays, where he has earned a role as an important reliever for the Blue Jays.

It will be nice to see if Lowe and the Blue Jays can go deep into the playoffs and even reach the World Series. If the team does make the Series, Lowe’s Type 1 diabetes is sure to be a storyline for sports reporters looking for human interest angles leading up to the final games of the season. Certainly, Lowe’s Blue Jays, which also once fielded two other pitchers with Type 1, has become the adopted team of Insulin Nation’s editorial staff for the 2015 playoffs.

Photo Credit: Toronto Bluejays

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Craig Idlebrook is a past editor for Insulin Nation, Type 2 Nation, and Información Sobre Diabetes. He is now the community engagement and content manager for T1D Exchange.

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