Stewart embracing chance to be role model as he tries to make club

The challenge of winning a job with the Orioles in spring training is kept in its proper perspective, with Kohl Stewart overcoming a much larger obstacle to forge a career in professional baseball.

Camp competition isn’t going to rattle him. It feels more like a reward.

Stewart earned a football scholarship to Texas A&M. He was the fourth overall selection by the Twins in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. The accolades kept pouring in, a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes at age 9 unable to alter the course of his life.

Just make the necessary adjustments for the sake of his health and move forward.

Stewart Throws Twin Sidebar.jpg“It’s a life-changer for sure,” said Stewart, who signed a split contract with the Orioles on Dec. 29. “It’s something that, from the moment that I wake up and go to sleep at night, I’m constantly dealing with it. And even throughout the night on some occasions. So it’s something that’s just constantly in my life and will be for the rest of my life unless, hopefully, they cure it - and that would be incredible - but honestly, I don’t remember life without it, just because I was diagnosed at such a young age that I kind of adjusted at that point. And since then I’ve tried to get better and better at it.

“Obviously, in the position I’m in, I’m trying to help as many young people as possible.”

Stewart has impacted Addy Dombrovski, who approached him at last winter’s TwinsFest event in Minnesota. She learned of her condition at age 3 and wanted to meet Stewart, knowing his health history. Dombrovski was 5 1/2 when Stewart knelt and showed her the Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) device that he wears in his back uniform pocket. They engaged in a long and meaningful conversation.

“Being diagnosed at a young age like she was, it can be a pretty big burden not only on her, but with her family as well,” Stewart said. “Trying to help those people out, that’s pretty rewarding, so I’d love to do more of that.”

The list of major league players with Type 1 diabetes is short, with perhaps the most prominent being former Cubs and White Sox infielder Ron Santo. Other names include Braves outfielder Adam Duvall, former outfielder Sam Fuld and former pitchers Mark Lowe, Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan.

Jason Johnson, who pitched for the Orioles from 1999-2003, was the first major league player to receive permission to wear an insulin pump on the field. It hooked to his belt across his lower back.

Stewart has a t:slim insulin pump with a CGM device to track his blood sugar level. He began using it last season.

“I basically wear it all day and it communicates with my insulin pump and tells it what my blood sugar is at all times,” Stewart said. “I can then go plug that into an app and it will tell me some trends and maybe times of the day that I should maybe increase dosage or decrease dosage and all types of things. They’re definitely making it easier on us as the technology develops. I’m definitely happy that I have diabetes in this time than maybe 50 years ago.

“It’s super beneficial. I can’t tell you how much better my control is and how much better my numbers are since I started doing it.”

There also are dietary changes that Stewart has made through the years.

“Every time I eat or drink something it’s going to have an effect on what I’m doing,” he said. “I’m trying my hardest to adjust those things, but every year something new is coming out or something that’s going to be beneficial. I mean, there’s all these technologies that are really helping me out.

“Anything I can do to, hopefully, better my life and better my career, obviously I’m going to take those things into consideration for sure.”

The Twins disrupted it by outrighting Stewart on Nov. 4 after he went 2-2 with a 6.39 ERA and 1.461 WHIP in nine games. He elected free agency and agreed to a deal with the Orioles that pays $800,000 if he’s on the club.

“I wasn’t surprised. I had a bad year last year,” he said.

“I really didn’t know what the offseason was going to hold. I was more surprised that they let me walk and are allowing me to get a fresh start somewhere else. I love everybody from that organization. I think what they’re doing is pretty special and I don’t have any ill feeling toward any of those guys. I think they’re on the right track.

“They’re going through a lot of change from the previous regime to the current one, and I think they saw that maybe going somewhere else was probably the most beneficial thing for my career, so I’m pretty thankful for that opportunity.”

Stewart, 25, has gone from division winner to a last-place club in the early stages of its rebuild. His agent, Darek Braunecker of Frontline Sports Management, worked out the details with executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias.

“They shared some things with him that they thought were going to be beneficial and they presented a plan in front of me,” Stewart said. “I’ve spoken with Doug (Brocail) a few times about some things that they intend to implement in my program and things they’ll help me with.

“They mentioned me getting an opportunity to prove that I can start, and just those combinations of things and the opportunity were something that was very intriguing for me and I’m looking forward to it.

“Sometimes from the outside looking in those things can appear that way, but teams internally have guys that they prefer in certain spots. So to hear it from Mike himself that they thought that they could really help me improve and that they really wanted me to earn a spot and take the things that they have planned, to actually hear that out of his mouth and know that they’re going to really work with me and try to help me continue to develop, that was honestly the deal-sealer for me. Just hearing him say that and the intent that you could tell was behind his message was the most important thing.”

The instruction will come from Brocail, director of pitching Chris Holt and bullpen coach Darren Holmes, much of it aimed at correcting flaws in a delivery that were captured on video.

“There’s also some pitch-mix usage things that they’re going to look at, as well,” he said. “I think that the things they’ve given me so far, the intent was to clean up my delivery and they think there’s some added velo potential and maybe some increased usage of my slider. They see some low-hanging fruit is kind of the way they expressed it to me.

“Those are just a few of the things. I know it’s going to get a lot deeper once we get into spring training and we can really sit down and talk about it more. But those are just on the forefront some of the things that they mentioned.”

The Orioles also suggested that Stewart go back to throwing his four-seam fastball, which became his fourth pitch last season.

“That added velo should also help set up some off-speed things and, hopefully, get guys to chase a little bit more,” he said.

It’s part of a new program that won’t overwhelm Stewart. He hasn’t noticed the pressure and inflated expectations that come with being the fourth overall draft pick. Very little seems to bother him.

“I haven’t thought about it once,” he said. “The draft is so far away. Once you get into pro ball, everybody’s a pro and it’s pretty cut and dry. You have to perform or move on. So if you’re stuck in those sorts of thought processes, I think you can get away from what is really going to help get you better. At least I try to.

“I don’t feel like it’s affected me. I haven’t paid any attention to it.”

Note: Individual tickets for Orioles spring training games at Ed Smith Stadium go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m. at Orioles.com/Spring.

The Orioles are offering a special online 36-hour presale from 10 a.m. Thursday to 10 p.m. Friday for fans subscribing to the free digital Sarasota 365 Newsletter or Warehouse Wire.

Fans can sign up for the Sarasota 365 Newsletter and Warehouse Wire at Orioles.com/Newsletter.

The first spring home game is Feb. 23 against the Red Sox at 1:05 p.m.

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