Twins catching prospect Turner not letting diabetes divert career
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The equipment in Stuart Turner’s baseball bag is almost identical to the tools of the trade that any other catcher has with him in spring training.
There’s the chest protector, the shin guards, and the face mask. There’s also a catcher’s mitt and a few bats. But the Twins catching prospect has one item in his bag that no other catcher in camp does: a blood glucose tester.
During a few minutes of downtime during a recent workout at the CenturyLink Sports Complex, Turner knelt down at his bag, pricked his finger to draw a small amount of blood, and checked his blood sugar level. For Turner, a Type 1 diabetic, this process was just as natural as taking batting practice or blocking a curveball in the dirt.
Turner, 23, has had diabetes since he was in seventh grade. Throughout his entire baseball career — and his time as a high school quarterback — his diabetes has never gotten in the way of his ability to compete.
"I have my good times and my bad, just like everybody else that’s diabetic. But I try to stay on top of it as best I can," he said. "I’ve never had any serious scares where I’ve passed out or had to go to the hospital or anything. I’m blessed enough to say I have decent enough control of it to where I feel it. Some people don’t feel it. Some people, it hits them and they’re done. Me, I’m lucky enough that I can feel it coming on and I go get a snack or whatever."
Turner is not the first diabetic baseball player, and he won’t be the last. In fact, the Twins had another diabetic on the team as recently as last year in outfielder Sam Fuld. Also a Type 1 diabetic, Fuld used his platform as a major leaguer to raise awareness for diabetes. He also wasn’t shy to check his blood sugar or administer insulin in the Twins’ clubhouse before games.
Entering his third year of professional baseball, Turner isn’t quite as quick to share his story with teammates, most of whom don’t even know he has diabetes.
"Not that I’m against it or anything, people knowing, but if everyone knows I’m a diabetic, then one, I’m always struggling with it, or two, something’s going wrong if everyone knows you’re a diabetic," Turner said. "If you see me testing and stuff, yeah, that’s normal. But if I’m always weak or passing out or jittery, that type of stuff, nothing against them but it’s almost like if they don’t know then maybe I’m doing a little better than most people might think."
While Turner’s teammates might not know much about his diabetes, the team’s athletic trainers are certainly aware. Not that they necessarily have to help Turner with it on a regular basis, but it’s important that they know in the rare case that something more serious does happen.
"He’s very good about taking care of himself," said Twins assistant athletic trainer Tony Leo. "He’s a smart kid. You can tell that level of maturity when you know you have to take care of it and deal with it. It’s a very manageable thing that (he) deals with on a day-to-day basis. He does exceptional with it."
Turner’s diabetes has not been a hurdle for the Louisiana native as he continues his path to the major leagues. The Twins took him out of the University of Mississippi in the third round of the 2013 draft. He spent most of his rookie season with Elizabethton in the Appalachian League, and played in 93 games with High-A Fort Myers in 2014, skipping Low-A Cedar Rapids.
This spring marks Turner’s second stint in Minnesota’s big league camp, even though it’s just his second spring training. Catchers are a valuable commodity in spring as teams need as many as possible to help with the abundance of pitchers.
Though Turner knows he’ll eventually get sent to the minor league side of camp, he’s doing what he can right now to soak up information from veterans like Kurt Suzuki.
"I’m lucky enough to be grouped up with him in most of our rotation stuff," Turner said of Suzuki. "While we have some down time … I just ask him what he thinks about this way of receiving or transfers or thought process, things like that. Last year I don’t think I did that as much. Last year I was really quiet, just kind of shy. This year I’m still keeping my mouth shut, but I’m trying to pick up what I can and learn much as I can."
In his first season in the minors after he was drafted, Turner hit .272 and had an on-base percentage of .345 in 35 total games. Last year with Fort Myers, Turner batted just .249 but hit seven homers and drove in 40 runs in 325 at-bats for the Miracle. He knows his offense is never going to be the strongest part of his game. In fact, Turner took the most pride in working with the pitching staff that helped the Miracle win the Florida State League championship.
Because of his defense and ability to call games, Turner is ranked by many as the Twins’ top catching prospect. But he knows that being ranked high on some list won’t get him to the major leagues any sooner.
"Either I perform or I don’t perform," Turner said. "I’m not going to move up the ladder just because I’m a prospect. I have to perform for me to get consideration to go up and to play at the highest level. I’ve just got to do my job and not worry about what other people think."
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