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Phillies minor leaguer Burch to use health scare as fuel

Tyler Burch, image- MiLB.com

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A missed baseball season wasn't the only challenge facing righty pitcher Tyler Burch this summer.  

With persistent symptoms that began prior to spring training it was ultimately discovered, after the 2020 season was shut down due to the Coronavirus pandemic, that the 22-year-old had developed an autoimmune disease.  

As symptoms that included dry mouth and frequent trips to the bathroom worsened, Burch's situation left his doctor puzzled.  And even the physician that conducted his team physical examination at the outset of spring training jokingly referenced diabetes, but did not take the possibility seriously.   

The physical impacts subsided somewhat during spring training, as being more active and adhering to the team diet helped alleviate what he was experiencing.

Once the baseball season was halted, however, Burch returned home and the health concerns would emerge once again. 

"I went home because of COVID, and the symptoms came back," Burch explained.  "I'm thirsty all the time, going to the bathroom, super fatigued-- I thought I was going to the bathroom a lot because I was drinking so much water, so the doctor prescribed me some mouth wash to deal with my dry mouth and that didn't go away."

It took multiple doctor visits to diagnose Burch with type 1 diabetes, an issue where the cells that produce insulin are attacked by the body's immune system.  A blood sugar level under 140 is normal.  One day in June, Burch's levels spiked into the 400's.

A three-night stay in the hospital was the first big step in helping the six-foot-two 190-pound professional hurler get his health on the correct path.

"It was a huge lifestyle change.  I have to think about every meal choice.  I have to count the amount of carbs in it.  And I give myself about four to five shots a day of insulin to regulate my blood sugar," Burch stated.

An undrafted free agent signing out of Lewis-Clark State in Idaho in 2019, Burch made his professional debut last summer as a member of the Phillies' Class A short-season affiliate, the Williamsport Crosscutters.  In 12 appearances (four starts), the Idaho native tallied a 4-1 record with a save, a 1.51 ERA, a .225 batting average against as well as an 8.6 K/9 mark.

Burch credits his parents and his girlfriend for assisting him with adapting to his lifestyle changes.  He feels that being at home while dealing with the health concerns was beneficial to his ability to approach them.  Being away from home while struggling with the physical challenges and mental stress would have made things far more difficult, he feels.

"I'm not saying that I am happy that my season was cancelled, but the fact that I was home made this a little bit less stressful than having a season where I'm playing and losing innings and having to deal with all this without my family." 

"I want to play baseball.  But that fact that I am home has made this process a little bit easier," Burch said. 

As the weeks have gone by since the hospital stay, Burch has gotten better at the work involved with managing his diet.  From needing an hour just to prepare a meal, the knowledge of carbohydrate content, portions and more are becoming second nature to the talented pitcher.  He's now able to more swiftly fuel himself.

Burch proclaims that he's fully healthy now that he's gotten a proper diagnosis and a handle on how to cope with the hurdles.

A college teammate of Phillies rookie reliever Connor Brogdon, Burch is planning to work as a coach for the Lewis-Clark State Warriors while he's on his down time from minor league baseball.  He will have access to the team's facilities and various battery mates in order to get his work in and stay mound-ready.

"It's an amazing program there and I'm so fortunate to be able to have gone through it and to be able to give back," Burch said.  "It's definitely a brotherhood.  We grinded together every single day.  We all want to make it to the big leagues and I have friends from there that didn't make it to pro ball that are still rooting for me." 

Despite the support from teammates, friends and family, some of the battle to recover took place between Burch's ears.

There were times during the dietary and lifestyle transitions when, Burch admits, he felt down and wonder things such as, "Why me?"  But knowing that such a mindset couldn't be helpful, the already mentally tough athlete developed a higher level of resiliency.  

Aware that the challenges of dealing with diabetes could impede his path toward the big leagues, Burch isn't willing to allow a health related hurdle to curtail his journey.

"This can change my career in the sense that it can give me even more of a drive toward the big leagues.  So, I'm using it as a fuel for my fire to continue to work harder.  Because the cards are already stacked against me.  I mean I'm a free agent signing out of college- the odds are already not in my favor.  So, adding this on top of it I've got to work that much harder."

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