Garrett Mitchell Is A Unique Talent In Many Ways
The pump is constantly connected to Garrett Mitchell. Every day, every hour and every minute of his life—aside from a brief moment every three days when he changes it—Garrett is connected to a small piece of plastic tubing that acts as a vital organ. For everyone with a working pancreas—which, statistically, is most of you—let Garrett break it down. “So, the pump acts as a pancreas for me, and you obviously have a pancreas. We both do, but yours works and mine doesn’t,” Garrett said. “So, basically, when you eat food, it doesn’t matter if it’s bread, pasta or anything—whatever food you eat, your pancreas corrects for it. “Keeps your blood sugar in the area of 80 or 90 to 100, 120 (millimoles per liter). You won’t ever really go above or under that. It’s just because the pancreas is able to produce enough insulin to always make sure you stay stable. “And mine doesn’t produce any.” That’s because Garrett is a Type I Diabetic. He has been since he was 9 years old. Or, at least, that’s when he was diagnosed. His father, Antony, remembers the moment vividly. He remembers sitting in the hospital and having flashbacks of when Garrett was born and of when he first threw a baseball. Of the wide smile on his face and of the first time he hit a home run. He thought of everything that had seemed possible for his son just moments ago, but now—who knows? “He had excessive urination, thirst, hunger, some mood changes, a little bit of weight loss,” Antony said. “When we took him in, we thought maybe it was a UTI or something like that. And then he was diagnosed. “I just remember that night in the hospital, him and his mom (Shannon) and I. I knew enough about (Type I Diabetes), but at the same time it was like, ‘How normal does he get to be?’”
OVERCOMING ODDS Nine years later, Garrett is a senior center fielder at Orange Lutheran High, in Orange County, Calif. He still has his pump connected every day—there’s currently no cure for Type I Diabetes—and he still isn’t very normal. But that has nothing to do with his health situation and everything to do with what he’s able to do on a baseball field. He’s a plus-plus runner as a lefthanded hitter and has the speed and athleticism in center field to be an elite defender. He has impressive bat speed and has plus raw power, as well. During the 2017 National High School Invitational—which Orange Lutheran won—he was clocked at 3.95 seconds out of the box and recorded the longest-hit ball of the tournament, according to TrackMan, at 390 feet. “He’s one of the greatest talents that I’ve ever had a chance to work with and see,” said Orange Lutheran hitting coach A.J. Lamanda, who grew up in Southern California playing with and against players such as Evan Longoria, Danny Espinosa, Mark Trumbo and Hank Conger. “He matches (the talent of those guys), if not at the top or at the upper echelon of those guys.” Orange Lutheran head coach Eric Borba goes a step further. “I think, talent-wise, he’s the most talented player I’ve ever been around,” Borba said. “I think he’s a Mike Trout-type of talent. You just don’t get the size, speed and strength like he has very often. “And I’m not saying he is a Mike Trout. But I’m saying he’s got those kinds of tools. And when you see a guy like that, it would be pretty hard for me to pass up on him.” Some teams will pass him up. Mitchell is the No. 27 prospect on Baseball America’s Top 100 Draft Prospects and could easily go in the first round this June. But the pump is always connected, and questions about his diabetes always come around. Garrett checks his blood sugar every day after he wakes up and again at night before he goes to bed. In addition to the pump that gives him insulin, Garrett has been wearing a sensor for about a year that monitors his blood sugar at all times. He hated it at first. It would constantly beep at him throughout the day. If it weren’t for his mom, he would have ditched it for good, but, “It’s going to keep her from having a panic attack.” After this year, he’ll be away from home. Whether that’s in some minor league farm system or on campus at UCLA—where he’s been committed for three years—his parents will both breathe easier knowing the sensor acts almost as another person, constantly checking in on him. There are other reminders of his diabetes, some much less subtle than a beeping device in his back pocket. On days when the California sun is particularly hot at practice, Garrett might have to sit down and take a break. Or in the weight room, during a strenuous workout or when the team is doing sprints. Those instances don’t happen all the time. But they do happen, and often the biggest challenge is the perception that it gives people around him. “It’s difficult because teammates always wonder if that’s him taking shortcuts or what,” Borba said. “I think that’s the toughest part, when you’re talking about teenage kids who are always trying to outdo each other and work harder. Everybody’s looking at Garrett because he’s up on a pedestal on the professional level, on the professional scale. “He’s under a microscope in everything that he does, and so I think that’s the biggest thing, is dealing with not just the Type I Diabetes that he has, but dealing with all that comes with it with his peers.” While that might be a problem initially, most of his teammates have learned about diabetes and have come to understand why Garrett might have to take a break when his blood sugar skyrockets or dips too low. Borba has talked to the team about what it’s like managing diabetes. He’s coached players who have dealt with it before. Dealing with those perceptions has helped Garrett learn how to ignore the criticism. He has learned to let his play on the field silence the doubters. There’s a part of him that feeds off of that doubt. He gets excited at the thought of proving people wrong. That’s when his confidence—normally quiet, and hidden away—bubbles to the surface. “They can think whatever they want,” Garrett said. “I hope one day I get to face them in the major leagues and when I do—and I get a base hit, steal a bag or, better yet, hit a homer or maybe even a walk off homer—they shake my hand after the game and say good job. “That will be the loudest statement I could ever make. Without saying a word.”
CONSISTENCY IS KEY One of the biggest challenges Garrett has had on the baseball field is in the consistency of his swing. From T-ball through little league, Garrett’s swing was remarkably similar. Antony has the pictures to prove it. But throughout high school, Garrett has pressed at times and at others has sought after too much feedback from too many people. “Consistency is probably the biggest tool for any type of hitter,” Lamanda said. “And that goes with a mental consistency, a physical consistency. And one thing that we had talked about early on in the year was, it’s great to have a lot of people that can assist you in your swing. “But sometimes that can be a detriment, as well. You know, you have five people telling you five different things, you kind of don’t know which one you need to focus on.” In some ways, diabetes has provided the model for Garrett’s mechanics in the box. Or at least helped him realize how to strive for that consistency. He’s been doing that for years with his nutrition. It’s now something he doesn’t even have to think about. “Off the field, life has actually been really easy for me,” he said. “Just because it’s second nature at this point . . . being consistent with the things that I’m eating, and balancing them with carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vegetables, fruits and then drinking lots of water throughout the day. “When those get off and everything starts to not be as balanced, like I’m not eating as great or I’m not drinking as much water and being consistent, that’s when things start to change. But for the most part that doesn’t change because I know what makes me feel good and play good.” Lamanda has tried to take that same philosophy and apply it to Garrett’s swing. Stay short to the ball, stay compact, don’t get too big. Keep everything in rhythm and simplify it as much as possible. The summer before his senior year, Garrett’s stance was wide and spread out. He wanted to adjust that this season, get taller in the box and create a slower, quieter load to get himself in a better position to drive the ball and help his timing. “And my thought was, ‘Hey, if that’s what makes you comfortable, that’s fine,’” Lamanda said. “‘But we have to make sure that with your comfort still comes that consistent swing. That lower half, quiet hands.’” And so even today, Garrett is using what he’s learned through life as a diabetic to help him with precise, technical changes on the field. The specifics of eating the correct amount of proteins and carbohydrates don’t go hand-in-hand with the complexity of adjusting a bat path and hand load, but the thought process behind the two are synonymous.
DIAGNOSED EARLY If anything, diabetes has helped Garrett. “I feel like if I weren’t a diabetic and I was just a high school kid playing baseball, things wouldn’t be the same,” he said. “I know God’s path for me. Everything that’s happened up to this point has happened for a reason. I don’t feel like I would be in this same position that I’m in now if I weren’t a diabetic.” He didn’t always feel that way. Being diagnosed at such a young age, Garrett felt like the world was against him. Why was he the person who had to deal with this? He didn’t even really understand the extent of what he had to deal with. He couldn’t even freely live out his childhood. Perspective has a way of clearing everything up. “Kind of looking back on it now, I thank God that I was the person who he gave diabetes,” Garrett said, “because I want to be able to share my story with other kids who are diabetic and think the world is against them. I know that even with diabetes, it’s not going to stop me from following and achieving my dreams.” It helps that the path has been tread before. Sam Fuld starred at Stanford for four seasons, becoming the all-time College World Series hits leader, and was a 10th round pick in 2004. He didn’t boast the tools that Garrett does, and he stood 5-foot-9 where Garrett stands 6-foot-2. He does have Type I Diabetes, though, and he managed an 11-year career in spite of it. Garrett knew about Sam Fuld the baseball player long before he knew about Sam Fuld the diabetic. “He was always on SportsCenter or Baseball Tonight because he would be making all of these crazy catches,” Garrett said. A year or two later, Garrett found out that Fuld was diabetic. He reached out to some people who could get him in touch, and asked him about everything: What’s daily life like? How do you take care of things on the field? Off the field? What do you do if your blood sugar is high? If it’s low? How do you keep it on track? Garrett learned that Fuld would test his blood before games and several times throughout them, to make sure everything was OK. Garrett now does the same. Fuld would also keep some sort of sugary substance—like gum—with him at all times. If he started feeling low, he would pop some in, and then test when he got back in the dugout. For Garrett, the concern is more often about having high blood sugar, so he’ll make sure he’s well-hydrated. But talking with a major league diabetic only confirmed what Garrett already knew. “It really just solidified that it doesn’t matter if I’m a diabetic and I’m trying to play Major League Baseball,” he said. “If he can do it, I can do it. I’ve already had to prove to myself and to others that it’s not going to be easy, but I can do it.”
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