SEATTLE -- Jake Diekman knows how to fight. He knows how to win. And he knows how to give back to others who also vow to fight and win.Diekman, the Texas Rangers' hard-throwing left-handed relief pitcher, missed most of the 2017 baseball season because of three surgical procedures to replace
SEATTLE -- Jake Diekman knows how to fight. He knows how to win. And he knows how to give back to others who also vow to fight and win.
Diekman, the Texas Rangers' hard-throwing left-handed relief pitcher, missed most of the 2017 baseball season because of three surgical procedures to replace his colon as a result of the ulcerative colitis he has suffered from since age 10. Diekman displayed perseverance and determination in overcoming this health obstacle to return for the final month of season, inspiring himself, his new wife, Amanda, and countless others.
In recognition of Diekman's courage and commitment to awareness, funding and support in the inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) community, Diekman was honored as the 53rd recipient of the prestigious Hutch Award for outstanding community service during the annual Hutch Award Luncheon at Safeco Field on Wednesday afternoon. The event also featured Hall of Famer and former Mariners left-hander Randy Johnson as its guest keynote speaker.
"I am honored that they chose me to receive this award," Diekman said. "And I'm truly humbled that I could be compared to the fighting spirit of Fred Hutchinson and previous award winners."
The Hutch Award, a national honor presented by the Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has been given every year since 1965 in honor of Major League player and manager Hutchinson, who died of cancer in '64 at the age of 45. Its list of honorees is heady: winners have included Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Carl Yastrzemski, Pete Rose, Joe Torre, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Lou Brock, George Brett and Johnny Bench. Last year's award went to Marlins reliever Dustin McGowan.
And now it's Diekman, who has long been a vocal supporter of and participant in fundraising and awareness activities for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America and has hosted children affected by Crohn's disease and colitis at games in Texas and Philadelphia, his former home when he was a member of the Phillies. Diekman also has provided kids with game tickets and met with them personally.
But last August, Diekman took his advocacy to another level, establishing the Gut It Out Foundation to strengthen relationship between patients and caregivers in the IBD community. He had seen first-hand how vital it is to be able to consult with others who are going through similar experiences. He wanted to be there for others, and now he is, through education, research, pediatric care and support groups via Gut It Out.
Diekman gutted it out last year, coming back to the mound and pitching for all of September, despite the surgeries.
• Diekman honored with Hardest Working Man Award
"I can confidently say that I have never felt better in my entire life," Diekman said Wednesday. "I'm the strongest I've ever felt, and I can finally control my disease. That meant the world to me, just knowing that I could be able to pitch after all that."
Part of the annual tour of Seattle for each Hutch Award winner is the Tuesday visit to the Hutch laboratory and the Wednesday morning stop at the Hutch School. Diekman was thrilled to be joined at both by Johnson. The two pitchers got a rare insider's look at the groundbreaking work done for the patients and their children.
After Diekman received the Hutch Award -- a crystal baseball trophy presented by Hutch president and director Dr. Gary Gilliland -- Mariners announcer Rick Rizzs did a Q&A with Johnson, who fondly recalled what he called a 10-year "apprenticeship" in Seattle from 1989 through 1998.
Johnson also talked about the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which was in the news again on the same day that the Cooperstown, N.Y., shrine officially welcomed Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman, while Johnson's old Mariners teammate, Edgar Martinez, missed out by a mere 20 votes.
"There were many turns and peaks and valleys in my career, and I was very happy to just make the Major Leagues, let alone play as long as I did," Johnson said. "To take the stage at the ultimate shrine of baseball with the greatest that ever played … that was not something in my vision. When I did get the call, I didn't think I was walking on ground for months."
Proceeds from the event, which over the past 18 years has raised a gross of more than $5 million, benefit life-saving research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
More information on the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Hutch Award can be found at www.fhcrc.org.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.