Cal Pitcher Morrow Impressing Scouts Despite Health Challenges

Bears right-hander has been a Type I diabetic for more than three years

May 11, 2006

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -In Brandon Morrow's back pocket is a glucose tablet in case he needs some quick sugar while pitching. In his equipment bag is an inhaler in case his exercise-induced asthma acts up.

California's hard-throwing right-hander, a Type I diabetic for more than three years, is having his best season yet for the Golden Bears - and is expected to make quite a splash in the first round of next month's baseball draft.

"I block it out," Morrow said of his potential high draft position. "I just kind of push it aside and don't really dwell on it too much. It's always nice to have the positive feedback."

Some of that feedback came after his sensational summer in the Cape Cod League last year.

Representatives from nearly every major league team have been out to see Morrow this spring, eager to evaluate a power pitcher who routinely throws in the mid-90s.

Morrow, 7-3 with a 1.74 ERA that was lowest in the Pac-10 to start the week, certainly made an impression on the large number of scouts who watched his outing May 5 at Stanford. He struck out 11 - one shy of his career high - and didn't walk a batter in 8 1-3 innings before taking the loss when Stanford scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-2 victory.

It was Morrow's second complete game this season. Heading into this weekend, he had 96 strikeouts in 93 1-3 innings and opponents were batting .200 against him. He went 45 innings before allowing his first home run.

He checks his blood sugar between innings. On days he doesn't pitch, he still monitors it five or six times a day. He depends on a computerized pump hooked to his skin near his stomach, a device that provides a constant drip of insulin.

"I can reach back and disconnect the pump any time I want, so that's what makes it so easy," he said. "No injections, no needles."

By now, he knows his symptoms, too - he becomes sweaty, nervous and somewhat irritable when he needs sugar.

"I shake a little bit, but you can fix it pretty quickly with just a little sugar," he said.

Morrow's success this year comes after he made only five starts and 10 appearances as a sophomore last season, going 0-1 with a 9.36 ERA. As a freshman, he also started only five games among his 19 appearances - never showing the form that made him a top recruit for Cal out of the nearby town of Rohnert Park.

He developed his off-speed pitches over the last year to a point that he is now comfortable using a curveball and changeup in games.

Last summer in the Cape Cod League, Morrow struck out 24 in 14 2-3 innings with a 1.84 ERA and three saves to earn league All-Star status for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox.

"It was a matter of him putting things together," Cal coach Dave Esquer said. "You knew he would. The question was whether he would do it during his time here. The thing is his confidence on the mound. He didn't have that before."

From the day Morrow received his diabetes diagnosis, his mother, Sharon, worked to help her son learn how to handle his health issues without letting them become a distraction.

"I was probably more frightened and concerned than he was," his mom said. "When your children are sick, you feel guilty and wonder 'Why did this happen to us?' He adapted very well. I was amazed at how well he accepted the fact that he has a disease that is a lifelong disease."

A high school teammate realized Morrow might be diabetic after the pitcher described how he felt.

"I had a lot of symptoms," he said. "I was getting dehydrated at night, my mouth was really dry. I had to go to the bathroom five times a night. At preseason conditioning, I was complaining about my symptoms and one of the guys on my team knew a little bit about diabetes. He read about diabetes and said he thought I had it."

Cubs broadcaster Ron Santo, a former major leaguer and a diabetic since age 18 who lost both his legs below the knee in recent years, knows Morrow will have a much easier time handling diabetes than he did in a 15-year big league career that featured five Gold Glove awards at third base and nine All-Star game selections.

"I heard about him and heard he's a diabetic and a No. 1 and top draft choice," Santo said Wednesday before the Cubs played the San Francisco Giants. "Today is different than when I was diagnosed."

In fact, Santo didn't tell his bosses or teammates about his diabetes right away - not until he made his first All-Star game in 1963 only three years after breaking into the majors. He kept orange juice and chocolate nearby at all times.

"As a pitcher, I think it's easier because I get to come and sit down between innings and monitor it and make sure it's at the same level, so I'm not going up and down," Morrow said. "As a field player, I think that would be a lot harder."

Santo knows all about those challenges, and he knows Morrow will be fine. The former Cub has raised more than $50 million for diabetes research through his golf tournament and annual walkathon, and always likes to see diabetics making good.

"I think it's an inspiration to all young kids," Santo said. "That's what it's all about."

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