Pitcher has it in con­trol

Ayala’s Buck­ley isn’t let­ting his Type 1 di­a­betes stand in the way of his ma­jor league dreams

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - ERIC SOND­HEIMER ON HIGH SCHOOLS eric.sond­heimer@la­times.com

It’s not dif­fi­cult to en­vi­sion se­nior right-han­der Jonathan Buck­ley of Chino Hills Ayala one day pitch­ing in the ma­jor leagues. He’s 6 feet 4, 195 pounds, has a fast­ball in the up­per 80s mph and is ma­ture be­yond his years.

“When he’s on, I’ll put him up against any­body,” Coach Chris Vogt said.

It’s even more in­trigu­ing to un­der­stand how far Buck­ley has come af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with Type 1 di­a­betes when he was 12 years old. Man­ag­ing the con­di­tion is no easy task for a teenager whose body is go­ing through typ­i­cal growth changes.

The fam­ily will never for­get the day the di­ag­no­sis came down, March 31, 2009. Buck­ley’s dream of be­ing a pitcher was threat­ened. He didn’t know much about the con­di­tion, so his mother, Jane, started do­ing re­search try­ing to find pitch­ers in the ma­jor leagues with Type 1 di­a­betes.

A month later, she learned on the In­ter­net that Mark Lowe and Bran­don Mor­row of the Seat­tle Mariners had Type 1 di­a­betes and the Mariners were in town to play the An­gels. The fam­ily bought four field box tick­ets that cost $860 so they could sit near the dugout and try to speak to one of the pitch­ers.

On a Sun­day morn­ing, Buck­ley, his mom, dad and younger brother were at An­gel Sta­dium. A Mariners player came out of the dugout for pregame warmups. His jer­sey name was cov­ered up. Jane shouted, “Ex­cuse me.” The player turned around and whether be­cause of fate or luck, it was Mor­row. For more than 30 min­utes, he gra­ciously talked to Buck­ley and his fam­ily, ex­plain­ing that Type 1 di­a­betes would not pre­vent any­one from pur­su­ing their dreams.

“He said, ‘This is some­thing con­trol­lable’ and he said, ‘Don’t let it stop you from reach­ing your goals,’ ” re­called Buck­ley’s fa­ther, Mark.

Jonathan, a sixth-grader at the time, was grate­ful to learn he could keep pur­su­ing his pitch­ing dreams.

“He made it seem like be­com­ing a Ma­jor League Base­ball player wasn’t any harder with or with­out di­a­betes,” Buck­ley said.

Life hasn’t been al­ways easy dur­ing high school for Buck­ley learn­ing to man­age the con­di­tion, but tech­no­log­i­cal break­throughs keep help­ing. He has an in­sulin pump that con­nects to a catheter and a con­tin­u­ous glu­cose mon­i­tor that keeps track of his blood-sugar lev­els.

In the last year, he has be­come com­fort­able and con­fi­dent. His strength and ve­loc­ity are ris­ing, his con­trol on pitches has been pre­cise and his devel­op­ment is on an up­ward tra­jec­tory. This is his first sea­son as a var­sity starter, and he’s 4-2 with com­pletegame shutouts against Uni­ver­sity and Clare­mont. He signed with St. Mary’s and, Vogt in­sists, “I think he’s go­ing to be a guy you hear about for a long time.”

His abil­ity to han­dle many re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as a teenager is en­cour­ag­ing for the fu­ture. He has to care­fully mon­i­tor his diet. He did have to give up one of his fa­vorite meals — Cin­na­mon Toast Crunch ce­real. He still eats oc­ca­sional junk food, but in mod­er­a­tion.

When one of his best friends on the team, cen­ter fielder Jor­dan Her­nan­dez, was re­cently di­ag­nosed with Type 1 di­a­betes, Buck­ley was quick to of­fer sup­port.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing how we both have it,” Buck­ley said. “He’s been ask­ing me ques­tions.”

Back in 2009, Buck­ley’s mother sent a thank you card to Mor­row that she based on the old MasterCard ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign: “Sta­dium park­ing, $8; brunch at Di­a­mond Club, $80; Di­a­mond Club Field Box seats, $860; meet­ing Bran­don Mor­row, priceless.”

Buck­ley won’t for­get Mor­row tak­ing the time to speak with him and en­cour­age him to keep his dream alive, and if he ever makes it to the ma­jor leagues, he’ll be ready to “talk to lit­tle kids” just as Mor­row did for him.

Dave At­t­away

JONATHAN BUCK­LEY, pitch­ing for Chino Hills Ayala in a game last May, learned he had Type 1 di­a­betes when he was 12 years old.

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