The most important phone in the Waynesburg University baseball team’s dugout isn’t the one manager Michael Humiston uses to communicate with his bullpen.
It’s Mason Miller’s cellphone, which sends a signal when the sensor attached to his abdomen indicates his blood sugars have spiked or plummeted to dangerous levels.
The device has become standard equipment for the Yellow Jackets’ ace since being diagnosed with Type I diabetes last summer. Previously known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, the disease is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or none of the hormone needed to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy.
“As of now, there is no cure for it,” said the 20-year-old Bethel Park resident. “They have been doing different research so there is a little bit of hope, but realistically it’s just part of who I am right now. I think I have come to terms with it now, but it was definitely hard for a while.”
The disease certainly taxed Miller psychologically and physically, and the diagnosis rocked his world.
“I felt a lot of emotions and I am sure anger was in there, but I didn’t have anyone person or one thing to be angry at,” he said. “It was a freak diagnosis. It was me that got it, so I just think disappointment and sadness would be a better description.”
The disease could explain his tumultuous pitching career. He had a 1-9 record before his junior season.
Today, Miller ranks first among pitchers in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference in ERA (1.46) and opposing batting average (.181). With an 8-2 overall record, he rates No. 2 in wins. He had 92 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings.
Miller credits the discovery and management of his disease to his improvement. For starters, he added a significant amount of weight to his 6-foot-5 frame while adhering to a diet high in protein and featuring plenty of green vegetables.
“I was able to put on weight which is something that I have been trying to do since high school,” he said
Miller said the extra pounds have “absolutely” impacted his pitching, particularly “from a stamina and strength” standpoint.
“During the season last year, I was 150 pounds,” he said. “So I was pretty thin. As far of stamina, I could go a couple innings and start fading off then I would have to come out as opposed to this year when I can stay in a game.”
Miller has always been in the game beginning with T-ball at age 5 when his family lived in Mt. Oliver. After a move to Bethel Park, he became the ace of the Black Hawks’ staff. He was a two-year starter and led the team to a section championship before embarking on his career at Waynesburg.
“Mason’s a free spirit, very laid back, but put him on the mound and he competes,” said Tony Fisher, his former head coach at Bethel Park. “Our staff at Bethel Park could not be more proud of what he has been able to accomplish at the collegiate level, especially with the circumstances he was facing off the field.”
Miller never knew he was facing any off-the-field adversity until he interned at Jefferson Hospital last summer. He submitted a urine sample because Allegheny Health Network required a drug test.
Testing revealed a blood sugar level of more than 700.
“Off the charts,” Miller said. “They don’t usually see that. So they sent me to the ER.
“I felt normal,” he added, “but looking back I did have symptoms. I just didn’t notice them. I slept a lot, lost a lot of weight. But I had just written them off to stress from school, not eating and things like that. So I was really thankful for the internship because I would not have been doing a drug test had it not been for that.”
Even though it was awkward sitting in a room filled with 15 other recently diagnosed patients, most under the age of 14, Miller was thankful for the required classes UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh offered regarding the disease.
Miller learned from the classes that diabetes is an autoimmune disease.
“It develops on its own,” Miller said. “It’s not really anything that I did. I didn’t give it to myself.”
Miller does, however, give himself a shot of insulin in the evening. He also takes a dose of insulin each time he eats. He has developed and designed a plan, along with his parents Kirstin and Matthew, to manage his disease while pursuing all of his endeavors.
Miller excels in the classroom. He maintains a 3.9 GPA, participates in the national honorary fraternity for students in business, management and administration Sigma Beta Delta, Waynesburg’s Student Investment Club as well as the Bonner Scholarship Program, where he has completed 280-plus hours of community service.
Miller also volunteers at First Baptist Church of Waynesburg, The Open Door youth outreach organization in Pittsburgh and American Cancer Society with fundraising events such as Relay For Life.
“Mason’s a great kid and a true humanitarian,” Fisher said.
Miller said nothing about the disease inhibits him.
“I have gotten back to everything that I have been doing before,” he said. “I don’t feel limited in any sense. It’s just another thing I have to think about, another thing I have to do every day. If I wasn’t thinking about it, then I would be putting myself in situations that wouldn’t be safe for me.”
Because of the monitor he wears that communicates with his phone, Miller has safely regulated his disease. Since he purchased the system a couple months after his diagnosis, he has had no incidents of passing out because his sugars are out of balance.
“Because of baseball and things like that, I didn’t want to do a pump,” he said. “So I use pens and needles. It doesn’t really hurt because the needles are a lot smaller than the typical ones that you think of. They are very small so you hardly feel them.”
Miller said he desired the phone method because it was a lot easier, especially when he is pitching.
“I get alerts on my phone if my blood sugars are going low or going high, but I usually have a pretty good idea of where I am at so I can get out in front of whatever’s going on,” he said.
Since he began managing his disease better, Waynesburg’s baseball team has got it going on.
The Yellow Jackets earned their first league tournament berth since 2015. They were 21-17 overall and 15-9 in the conference heading into the playoffs, which started May 9.
“We are very fortunate to have Mason as a player, teammate and leader,” Humiston said. “He is a great leader, a great student, a great player and a great teammate. We are a better team with Mason Miller.”
Miller said he got back into shape this season not just because it made him healthier, but because it benefited the Yellow Jackets. He credits this year’s success to “a commitment” to team values and teammates.
“The values are putting the team first,” he said. “As far as conditioning and stuff like that, it’s not that you are doing it for yourself, you are doing it for the guy next to you. When you’ve been 1-9 the past years, there isn’t a whole lot to remember, but the most important thing has been the good friends I have made on this team. This season as a whole has been amazing. I don’t think anybody expected this from me or our team as a whole. My teammates have believed in me all through this and that’s why my confidence level is so high. They have been there for me and looking out for me.”
Miller has been a terror for opposing batters who are hitting .181 against him in 2019.
While he has command of four pitches, he relies mostly on his fastball and curve. The slider his is strikeout pitch, although he only began throwing it this year. He uses a change-up when the opposition has shown it can hit him.
“I have the most confidence in the fastball and curve,” he said.
Miller is working toward a career in finance after his playing days at Waynesburg are completed.
He knows competing in the Division III National Championship is a “lofty goal,” but the Yellow Jackets are taking it one game at a time.
Miller said possibilities are endless for anybody with diabetes. He said that message is important for young kids facing the same diagnosis.
“It’s not going to be easy, but nobody said that life would be easy,” Miller said.
He said a medical diagnosis can reveal plenty about a person’s character.
“It shows your character and how you come through it,” Miller said. “It also shows how bad you want it. Think of it as a chance to show everybody what you’re really made of and how you can overcome adversity.”
“That’s another thing,” he added. “My situation is bad. But it could be different and worse in so many ways. I have a lot more control on how well I manage it. It’s not really up to chance.”