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Diabetes won't hold back Cubs' outfield prospect
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

Sam Fuld, right, gets a hug from Jacque Jones after crashing into the ivy in right right field to make a catch last season against the Pirates.

 

Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

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Published: 3/4/2008 12:15 AM

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PEORIA, Ariz. -- At 8 in the morning, Sam Fuld scarfs down a blueberry muffin, heads for his locker and unzips a small black case.

Cell phone? BlackBerry?

Nope. Glucometer.

Five or six times a day, the Cubs' center fielder opens that case, pricks a finger (without wincing) and checks his blood sugar.

Yes, Fuld is a diabetic. He has Type 1, or juvenile, diabetes.

But no, he doesn't let it get him down.

"Oh, no," the 5-foot-10, 185-pound outfielder says. "I've always had a positive approach toward it. I've looked at it as a challenge, an unavoidable challenge. It's easier said than done, but it doesn't do any good to mope about it, so you just deal with it."

Fuld deals with his diabetes much the same way he goes about his work on the baseball field: in a businesslike manner.

He checks his blood sugar -- "It's pretty painless; I've got calloused fingers" -- and gives himself shots of insulin at breakfast and dinner times.

Fuld, however, refuses to be defined by a disease. Although he also enjoyed the adulation he received for a spectacular game-saving catch last September at Wrigley Field, he's moved on from that, too.

After coming out of nowhere to help the Cubs during their playoff drive last fall, Fuld went to the Arizona Fall League, a showcase for top prospects. All he did there was win Most Valuable Player honors by batting .402 with 3 homers and a .492 on-base percentage in 29 games.

"I didn't have one thing set in my mind," he says. "It was nice because it was obviously a different atmosphere than coming from a playoff atmosphere in the major leagues. It was definitely relaxing. At the same time, you realize it's a pretty important league with a lot at stake. You have to take it seriously, but you can't help but play with more ease."

Still, wherever he went people wanted to talk about "the catch."

Just to refresh, Fuld crashed into the Wrigley Field vines just left of the 368-foot marker in right-center and robbed the Pirates' Nyjer Morgan of extra bases. Fuld also had the presence of mind to fire a one-hop strike to first base, doubling Nate McLouth off first base.

The crowd erupted, and an instant legend was born, straight out of right field.

"You get a little more attention because of that," he says. "It's nice to be appreciated. In the grand scheme of things, it's just one play. You try to move beyond that."

Fuld has a friend and a kindred spirit in Cubs legend and radio analyst Ron Santo. Like Fuld, Santo has Type 1 diabetes, a condition he kept secret much of his playing career.

"He's in a different situation than I was," Santo says. "He can check his sugars. I couldn't. I didn't have any of that. I didn't have anything but a tape that would show plus or minus. It was terrible. So I had to go by how I felt.

"He's not going to have as many low blood sugars, or hypoglycemia. He pretty much knows at all times where he's at. After an inning, he can go in and check his sugars. I had it, and nobody knew about it."

Fuld, a native of Durham, N.H., and the holder of an economics degree from Stanford, was diagnosed at 10 years old.

"One summer, I was thirsty all the time," he recalls. "I was going to the bathroom all the time. I lost some weight. So after a couple of months of that, my parents said enough's enough. Luckily, they were smart enough to take me into a doctor, and it was diagnosed right away."

Fuld seems to enjoy his bond with Santo.

"We talked about it," Fuld says. "Things were different when he played. The technology is so much better now. We've definitely shared some stories."

Some of those stories center around what Fuld does on the ballfield.

"Oh, yeah, I like him a lot," Santo says. "He's going to be a big-leaguer, there's no doubt. He's got all the qualities, and he's a gamer. He's got a big heart. He can run. He can throw. He can hit to all fields. He's a lot like (shortstop Ryan) Theriot -- knows the game. He concentrates on the game and goes and gets the ball."

Fuld, who can play all three outfield spots, is pushing Felix Pie in center field and is watching to see if the Cubs acquire a veteran for some insurance. Although not necessarily as talented as Pie and without the "high ceiling" Pie has, Fuld looks "serviceable" at the very least, considering he has only 6 big-league at-bats and is still looking for his first regular-season basehit.

"It's exciting," he says. "I try not to get caught up in exactly what can and what can't happen. All you do is control what you're able to control. Beyond that, I try not to get too bogged down with the other stuff.

"I've always taken a lot of pride in my defense. Just getting on base and doing the little things to help the team win. I'm not the most physically gifted player. I just try to play smart, things that maybe the average fan might not pick up on."