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Living to play the game

Billy Fredrick has learned to play baseball with diabetes and become a dynamic young talent

Posted: May 2, 2009 9:07 p.m.
Updated: May 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.

While dealing with diabetes, Billy Fredrick plays in Canyon Country Little League baseball and with two travel teams. Next fall, he will attend Golden Valley High School to continue his career.

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The moment Billy Fredrick found out he had diabetes, his mind was on something else.

“Can I still play baseball?” he asked the doctor.

He certainly could – and he certainly has.

Fredrick, a 14-year-old Canyon Country native, has evolved into one of the best young baseball players in the Santa Clarita Valley.

His numbers in Canyon Country Little League are staggering. Fredrick plays shortstop and also pitches periodically for the CCLL Cardinals, but his real impact is on offense, where this season alone, Fredrick is hitting .774 and has 12 home runs.

Those numbers prompt notable comparisons from his coach.

“They say if you can hit, they find a place for you,” says Cardinals head coach Gary Scott. “He does (Babe) Ruthian things on the field. That’s how other coaches and players at his level consider him.”

Billy has made sure they see him for his abilities and not his condition, which was diagnosed when he was 11 years old.

He began feeling abnormally tired and had to use the bathroom 15 or so times a day. His doctor gave him a blood test that revealed his blood sugar level was up around 800, well above the normal level of 100.

Billy was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, which means his body does not produce insulin, the hormone that converts certain foods into energy needed for daily life.

“I got kind of worried,” Billy says. “What am I supposed to do? What can I do?”

His father, Robert, had the same reaction.

“My wife called me at work,” he says. “I kept my cool, but it’s tough. We’re a very religious family. We kept telling people to have faith in God. It’s our test. We figure God had a plan for Billy and this is His plan, so we’ve just got to go with it.”

Billy’s family immediately began researching how to treat diabetes and discovered that cardiovascular activity helps stops the syndrome from worsening, which played into Billy’s favor considering his passion for baseball.

Billy starts his preparation by eating approximately two hours and 15 minutes before every game.

“The insulin has a curve,” says Billy’s father, Robert. “It hits your body really hard in an hour and a half, and it brings your blood sugar down. It starts to stabilize in about two hours. We just learned to plan ahead.”

During the game, Billy pricks his finger every inning to check his blood sugar. If his blood sugar gets too low, he begins to lose his depth perception, and his brain activity slows down, so Billy drinks Gatorades to raise it back up.

He also has to make sure his blood sugar doesn’t get too high. When it does, he takes some insulin from a pump on his belt that feeds directly into his stomach.

Billy has grown accustomed to the in-game routine, but it’s still a big change from before his diagnosis.

“It’s really different,” Billy says. “I have to check so much. I guess that’s it, just checking. It hasn’t really affected my focus.”

His teammates haven’t let it affect their focus, either.

Billy has played for the Cardinals since he was six years old, and he has also been playing with two travel teams, the Santa Clarita Valley Coasters and the Glendale Knights, for the past few months.

Other than keeping an eye on his condition, none of the other players have treated him any differently, despite Billy’s initial reservations.

“When I first came to practice, I was a little embarrassed about it,” Billy says. “We were kind of new to it. Now, I’m very open to it. I tell anybody who wants to know.”

Scott, who has coached Billy for two years, has set a good example for the Cardinals in that regard.

“I have a diabetic nephew,” Scott says. “I have a diabetic friend. I knew we had to take control of certain things. He does a great job of monitoring. It doesn’t really change anything as far as how I coach him.”

Billy also looks up to professional athletes who are diabetic, such as Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, Los Angeles Lakers forward Adam Morrison and New York Yankees pitcher Jason Johnson, who received permission from Major League Baseball to wear an insulin pump on the field.

Hoping to one day reach the majors himself, Billy takes regular batting practice with his father and younger brother Bobby in a batting cage behind his house.

Their sessions usually last 20 minutes, and they often stretch and take ground balls at local parks as part of the routine.

“I just want to practice and practice so I can be a Major League Baseball player when I grow up,” Billy says.

That step is still a few years down the road.

This fall, Billy will start his freshman year at Golden Valley High School and adjust to a new set of teammates and peers.

His parents also won’t be able to keep as close an eye on him while he’s playing, but his father isn’t worried.

“He knows his numbers, he knows how many carbs are in a Gatorade, so he’ll be fine,” Robert says. “He has to do it every day, so just by routine he learns it.”

Billy will have to learn to deal with improved competition at the high school level, too.

“He won’t hit as many homers because the fields are bigger, but he’ll still hit,” Scott says. “The fields are bigger, the pitching’s better. My guess is that he will jump right to the varsity team. I bet you he gets moved up pretty quick.”

That’s an impressive outlook for an incoming freshman, and more remarkable given Billy’s battle with diabetes.

But baseball has always been on Billy’s mind, even during the darker times for him and his family.

“He works so much harder than the typical kid,” Robert says. “Faith in God got us through this tough time.”

jgulino@the-signal.com

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