STEVE HEISER COLUMN: Diabetic Northeastern teen earns shot to make national baseball team
- East Manchester Township resident Nate Toomey was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 8.
- Toomey is 13 now and has the chance to make the U.S. 13-and-under baseball team.
- Toomey is trying to make the team as a right-handed pitcher.
At age 8, Nate Toomey was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
He may not have realized it at the time, but that diagnosis would have a dramatic impact on how he lived the rest of his life.
It was a life-altering moment for the youngster.
One thing that the diagnosis didn’t change, however, was Nate’s undying passion for baseball. That was a love affair that started when he was 5, and no disease was going to destroy that relationship.
So, Nate and his family learned all the ins and outs of controlling his condition so that he could continue to play baseball.
Suffice it to say they’ve succeeded in that endeavor.
Nate is 13 now and has sprouted to 5 feet, 11 inches and 145 pounds. He’s also garnering national attention for his exploits on the diamond, specifically as a right-handed pitcher, although he also plays first base and third base.
The Northeastern School District student, who will be an eighth grader this coming school year, is one step away from being named to the U.S. 13-and-under baseball team.
The East Manchester Township resident has advanced through multiple tryouts and beaten out hundreds of other players to earn one of 18 coveted spots on the New England Region team. The next stop is this week, from Wednesday, Aug. 9, through Sunday, Aug. 13, when Nate will try to gain a spot on the 13-and-under national team during a tournament at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina. In all, 16 teams will compete at the event and there are at least 62 national roster spots available.
If he earns a national team berth, Nate will have the opportunity to travel around the world and represent our nation. It’s a possibility he’s long dreamed of. In fact, he hopes to one day play for the U.S. Olympic team.
That’s down the road. For now, Nate’s complete focus is on this week’s opportunity in North Carolina.
A long road: Getting to this point has not been easy. Nate’s blood sugar levels are a constant concern. That’s why he uses a continuous glucose monitor to keep those numbers in the proper range.
“It impacts his ability (to play) when his (blood sugar) numbers are high or low. It’s a struggle he deals with all the time,” said Nate’s father, Shawn. “It’s a pretty big ordeal. But it really does drive him to stay in shape, work out and do better.”
Nate is already a workout warrior. He focuses on his fitness twice a week at Power Train of East York and there’s hardly an ounce of fat on him. In fact, his father would like to see him put on about a dozen pounds.
“I play baseball year ‘round. There is truly never an offseason,” Nate said.
Coaches: His current primary pitching coach is former York Revolution standout Corey Thurman, but Nate also credited several of his other former and current coaches, men such as Richard Santiago, Greg Hadfield, Todd Sadowski and Andrew Srebroski, with aiding his development.
“(They) encourage me and teach me the fundamentals,” Nate said of his mentors. “My pitching coaches (Santiago and Thurman) have taught me the way to strike out batters and keep my arm healthy so I can continue to play to my full ability.”
Part of keeping Nate’s arm healthy is limiting him to about 65 pitches per game.
Shawn credited Thurman with being particularly protective of Nate.
“Corey is a big stickler with what balls to throw,” Shawn said. “He wants his arm to be good. That’s why we love the guy. Corey doesn’t want him throwing curve balls. He’s says he’s not ready for that.”
Shawn also coached Nate during the Junior American Legion season, when he excelled on the mound despite being one of the younger players on the team.
Family help: In addition to his coaches, Nate also had kind words for his family, including father Shawn and mother Dana, as well as grandparents Kathy Toomey and Dorothy Flinchbaugh.
“(They) have cheered me on through thick and thin, took me to all my games and practices, and helped me control my Type 1 diabetes through games,” Nate said. “I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am now without them.”
More than a baseball player: Nate, however, is much more than just a baseball player.
He’s also a promising football player, and his father expects him to start at quarterback for Northeastern’s freshman team this fall.
In the classroom, he’s a distinguished honor roll student.
His health concerns, his athletic endeavors and his studies often make for a hectic schedule, but thus far the family has managed to make it work.
Things will likely only get busier if Nate manages to make the national team.
That will be one problem, however, that the Toomey family will look forward to having.
Especially considering what they've overcome to get there.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.