(JoJo Kolok, Jeff Kolok, Joey Bats, and Joe Maddon in Tampa at The Sam Fuld Classic.)
By Jay McEvoy
A day after Thanksgiving in 2015, my good friend J.D. Willcox came over to my house to have a chat. He brought some new gear that was set to release from one of my favorite companies, Qore Performance, and he wanted me to take a look at it. As its founder and also a former closer for Stanford University with four consecutive appearances in the College World Series, J.D. knows a thing or two about performing at the highest levels of competition. As an early adopter of his products who dominated Mrs. Duke’s 8th grade spelling bee, so do I.
But as the evening spent sitting on my basement floor testing out wearable hydration sleeves and shorts drew to a close, J.D. turned to me and asked, “Do you like wiffleball?” I had a memory from my youth flash in front of my eyes when my twin brother Tommy pegged me in the face with a fastball that “got away from him.” “Sure, who doesn’t like wiffleball?”
“Do you want to play in a charity wiffleball tournament in Florida next week?”
J.D. explained that Qore Performance was a sponsor for the Sam Fuld Classic in Tampa, Florida, put on by a non-profit organization called SlamT1D, short for Type 1 Diabetes. Sam and he were teammates at Stanford, and J.D. was happy and proud to support his friend in any way possible. Sam has Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease where his pancreas stopped producing insulin, which is a hormone we need to get energy from food. Sam, like all other T1Ders, has to carefully and constantly monitor his blood-glucose levels by the moment, and must regulate these levels with food and insulin, and measure them with at least six finger pricks a day. Insulin injections, finger pricks, and persistent monitoring would be hard enough for an able-bodied adult, but of the millions of Americans affected by T1D, hundreds of thousands of them are, unfortunately, children. Sam was diagnosed at the age of 10. The worst part? There is no known cause, and there is currently no cure.
(Wiffeball superstar and role model Sam Fuld wearing a “Pickle the Beast” fundraising t-shirt. I’m there too.)
Needless to say, I was floored, but curious. I assumed that a charity Wiffleball tournament would be a simple matter, with the traditional half-slotted ball and thin yellow bat that we all know from our childhood, maybe a fence to denote a home run. By the time I arrived in Tampa, I immediately realized that I could not have been more wrong.
(Jeff Kolok, Steve Cameron, Matt McCasland, and his father Jeff building Little Yankee Stadium)
SlamT1D is run by a man named Jeff Kolok and his wife Natalie. They have three beautiful children – Naomi, Johanna, and Nick. When Johanna was diagnosed with T1D in 2005, Jeff and Natalie vowed that together, they would beat this disease as a family. When they adopted their son Nick, who also has T1D, the Koloks were determined to fight diabetes head on. Their mission: “To improve the lives of people living with T1D through active games and sports.” What better way to raise money for the cause than to play wiffleball?
But what I saw in Tampa wasn’t just Wiffleball, it was nothing short of magic. The auxiliary fields on the campus of the University of South Florida were transformed from flat ground to a Wiffleball Heaven, with modular, scale replicas of Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Rogers Centre, and The Sandlot, all with lined fields, bases, foul poles, and umpires. Pros like Jose Bautista, Chris Archer, Dan Jennings, Denard Span, Chris Colabello, Matt Moore, Andrew Miller, and Joe Maddon just to name a few were either playing or enjoying the festivities. Kevin Kiermaier was outhustling everyone on the basepaths, and Logan Morrison tackled Sam Fuld after being hit by a pitch.
(Daybreak at Little Wrigley Field from the 2016 Sam Fuld Classic. Yes, it’s a wiffeball field!)
(Little Fenway Park. The pieces are loaded in a truck and are driven from Vermont to Florida.)
Despite fierce competition, my team, the Fighting Fulds, led by J.D. and Super Sam himself, won the championship. For me, it was a wonderful day of wiffleball (and winning), but also of education. I talked with a lot of parents of diabetic children, and they explained their struggles, like the daily fear of their son or daughter hitting dangerous blood-glucose levels (hypoglycemia) which can result in seizures, coma, or even death. We shared the frustration of diabetes being treated as a punchline instead of a deadly disease, but also the joy of being able to savor the little things in life.
I talked with the kids; some of the most mature individuals you’ll ever meet. Charting their blood-glucose levels, counting calories, routine finger pricks, consulting with their parents, injecting when needed, rinse and repeat. Every day, diabetics chase the ghost, and each one is filled with a combination of uncertainty, introspection, laughter, tears, and acceptance. Being associated with SlamT1D and the diabetic community, even in this small way, has been a life-changing experience for me.
(Sam Fuld takes a break to test his BG levels and inject insulin during The Classic)
The moment after hoisting the championship trophy of the Second Annual Sam Fuld Classic, I went right to work. I promised Sam and Jeff Kolok that I would be back with money raised for SlamT1D and that I would give them everything I had to help them out. I promised.
2016 brought an outpouring of support from social media, and I was the top fundraiser at the Third Annual tournament. I received generous donations from “glove guys” like Pablo, Eric, and Jake as well as from around the world. Victus Sports donated trophy bats, which were signed by the pros to be raffled later. I sold my own gloves for the cause, and even raffled a Wilson A2K BP4 donated by a glove friend from Australia (thanks Cam). The tournament raised $84,000 for the Type 1 Diabetes community, and it was another fantastic experience for everyone involved. But charity doesn’t win championships, and the Fighting Fulds were downed by the Weekend Wifflers 2-0 in the finals.
I was inspired. I was enlightened. Okay, I was also pissed that we lost. But here’s the point to all of this: In 2017, I wanted to do something special and different. This year, I wanted to develop a custom glove recognizing SlamT1D that anyone could purchase, and the proceeds would go to support all those diabadasses out there get the resources they need. With the help of some amazing people who pulled more than a few strings, I humbly present to you the following: A 12” Rawlings Heart of the Hide PRO200-6B with all the trimmings.
Here’s a look at the specs:
- 12” H-web
- PRO200 Pattern: Excellent versatility
- Black Horween leather
- SlamT1D home plate logo on thumb
- Split gray welting on fingers
- Reverse hand-sewn welting on pinkie and thumb
- Royal on black Rawlings logo patch
- Royal embroidery
- White stitching
- Indented stamping
- Black wool wrist
- Deer-tanned cowhide lining
- Pro Department Stiff:100% player break-in
- Price: $249 (Standard retail for a Heart of the Hide)
ALL PROCEEDS FROM THE SALE OF THIS GLOVE WILL GO DIRECTLY TO THE FIGHTING FULDS AND FURTHER THE SLAMT1D MISSION.
By purchasing a glove, you are broadening T1D awareness, promoting T1D programs, helping kids with T1D to attend camps and participate in a variety of programs, and supporting the education of kids and adults with T1D.
To purchase a glove, please email Chad Johnson ([email protected]) or find him on Instagram @softball.fans. If you would like to donate to the Fighting Fulds, please check out the link here: https://www.crowdrise.com/fighting-fulds/fundraiser/jaymcevoy
Rawlings has been enormously supportive of this initiative, and added this statement about the glove itself:
“Rawlings is honored to be a part of this special project to support SLAMT1D and its mission to improve the lives of those with T1D through sports. We’re hopeful that these limited-edition custom Rawlings gloves will help generate awareness and funds for the SLAMT1D organization.”
Gloves will ship early October, but since it is coming Pro Department Stiff, you’re going to need all fall and winter to break it in anyway!
As a non-diabetic, I get asked a lot why I do any I do any of this. Personally, I think the answer is pretty simple: Because I promised.
(Little Yankee Stadium. As an Orioles fan, I didn’t enjoy building this one #JeffreyMaier)
Even if you cannot donate or buy a glove, please consider visiting the following sites to get educated on T1D and help spread awareness of this lethal, life-altering disease.