Fuld raises awareness at SLAMDiabetes event
Outfielder diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 10, enjoys participating in Wiffle ball classic
TAMPA, Fla. -- Sam Fuld took a deep breath and dropped his left hand to his hip, armed with a ball. The A's outfielder stood with his heel on the pitching rubber and brought his hands together. He coiled back with an exaggerated windup. For a beat or two, his back faced the batter a few dozen feet away.
Fuld unfurled and whipped a pitch to home plate, where a boy in a Darth Vader outfit stood in the right-handed batters' box. Vader ripped a grounder down the third-base line. There was a force play at the bag. Fuld finally exhaled and pumped his fist. The Fighting Fulds missed the playoffs a year ago at the inaugural SLAMDiabetes Sam Fuld Tampa Classic. Now they had a win to start the day.
"My heart was racing," Fuld said with a laugh. "I don't care where you are. You've got the ball on the mound in the last inning, it's intense. I've already lost my voice. It's not even halfway through the day."
Fuld's win came at the most generic of the four fields set up at the Magnolia Fields Complex on the University of South Florida campus in Tampa on Saturday. The second SLAMDiabetes Sam Fuld Tampa Classic lasted the entire day and was double the size of the first tournament a year earlier. After raising less than $20,000 in 2014, the SLAMDiabetes Tampa Classic comfortably crossed the $50,000 mark this year.
Next year, SLAMT1D CEO Jeff Kolok expects it to be even bigger. The Wiffle ball tournaments originated in Vermont at the YouTube-famous Little Fenway Park and spread through New England. The original one is now a two-and-a-half day event, which has drawn former Major Leaguers Oil Can Boyd, Bill Lee, Roy White and Luis Tiant.
Kolok's goal is to raise awareness of Type 1 diabetes and emphasize living life to the fullest even with the disease. Fuld, who has made it to the Majors despite diabetes, is a prime example of Kolok's goals.
"It's off the hook," Kolok said. "It's all about the fun. It's a fundraiser, but the way we've structured the fundraiser, the fundraising is kind of subordinate to the fun aspect."
Teams -- this year there were 16 -- are awarded 25 points for every $500 donated. The donations are cut off Friday, and then teams are awarded 125 for every win Saturday. The top eight teams who have donated at least $2,000 qualify for the postseason.
Among the 16-team field Saturday, most came from around Florida, though one traveled all the way down from Connecticut. Some teams went with quirky, themed outfits. The Hooligans wore Christmas-style tuxedo T-shirts with red and white striped pants and Santa Claus hats. The Venice Pirates wore Stormtrooper shirts with the team captain in Darth Vader attire.
Each team was then paired with an MLB player. Fuld, of course, led his namesake team. Kevin Kiermaier was paired with a team from the Ted Williams Museum. Chris Archer sat on the bench with a team made up of Tampa Bay Rays staff members while Jose Bautista, Andrew Miller and Cubs manager Joe Maddon mingled beneath a tent, posing for photos and signing autographs.
In one of the first games of the day, Kiermaier went yard twice for a pair of three-run shots off Rays vice president of communications Rick Vaughn, who pitched for then-NAIA George Mason.
"He's been the star so far," Fuld said during a brief lunch break. "It's amazing. Some of the guys' success in baseball doesn't translate."
Fuld, who lives in Jupiter, Fla., and was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 10, came upon the event when Kolok reached out to him. Kolok knew Fuld was a diabetic and wanted to expand his tournaments down to Florida. When the two talked, Fuld was playing for Tampa Bay and running diabetes camps in Tampa.
"I thought, 'Oh, yeah. This is perfect,'" Fuld said. "How do you turn down this?"
He's now run the camps for four years and is thrilled about the promise of the SLAMDiabetes Tampa Classic. Next year, there will be at least one new field to accompany the miniature Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.
On Friday night, Fuld came out to South Florida to help set up for the event. His fellow Fighting Fulds were there, too, including some former Stanford teammates. They put up the fields and made sure the event was organized. Saturday morning, the first-timers realized how unique the event was.
"I'll be talking about this for a really, really long time," said Jay McEvoy, a member of the Fighting Fulds. "I just took a look at it, and I was like, 'We need to do this every year forever. We need to do this until time stops.'"