Ayala High's Jonathan Buckley pitches a winner against diabetes

Ayala High's Jonathan Buckley pitches a winner against diabetes
Jonathan Buckley pitches for Ayala against Mayfair on May 20, 2014. (Dave Attaway)

It's not difficult to envision senior right-hander Jonathan Buckley of Chino Hills Ayala one day pitching in the major leagues. He's 6 feet 4, 195 pounds, has a fastball in the upper 80s mph and is mature beyond his years.

"When he's on, I'll put him up against anybody," Coach Chris Vogt said.


It's even more intriguing to understand how far Buckley has come after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 12 years old, and managing the condition is no easy task for a teenager whose body is going through typical growth changes.

The family will never forget the day the diagnosis came down, March 31, 2009. Buckley's dream of being a pitcher was threatened. He didn't know much about the condition, so his mother, Jane, started doing research trying to find pitchers in the major leagues with Type 1 diabetes.

A month later, she learned on the Internet that Mark Lowe and Brandon Morrow of the Seattle Mariners had Type 1 diabetes and the Mariners were in town to play the Angels. The family bought four field box tickets that cost $860 so they could sit near the dugout and try to speak to one of the pitchers.

On a Sunday morning, Buckley, his mom, dad and younger brother were at Angel Stadium. A Mariner player came out of the dugout for pregame warmups. His jersey name was covered up. Jane shouted, "Excuse me." The player turned around and whether because of fate or luck, it was Morrow. For more than 30 minutes, he graciously talked to Buckley and his family, explaining that Type 1 diabetes would not prevent anyone from pursuing their dreams.

"He said, 'This is something controllable' and he said, 'Don't let it stop you from reaching your goals,'" recalled Buckley's father, Mark.

Jonathan, a sixth-grader at the time, was grateful to learn he could keep pursuing his pitching dreams.

"He made it seem like becoming a major league baseball player wasn't any harder with or without diabetes," Buckley said.

Life hasn't been always easy during high school for Buckley learning to manage the condition, but technological breakthroughs keep helping. He has an insulin pump that connects to a catheter and a continuous glucose monitor that keeps track of his blood-sugar levels.

In the last year, he has become comfortable and confident. His strength and velocity are rising, his control on pitches has been precise and his development is on an upward trajectory. This is his first season as a varsity starter, and he's 4-2 with complete-game shutouts against University and Claremont. He signed with St. Mary's, and Vogt insists, "I think he's going to be a guy you hear about for a long time."

His ability to handle many responsibilities as a teenager is encouraging for the future. He has to carefully monitor his diet. He did have to give up one of his favorite meals — cinnamon toast crunch cereal. He still eats occasional junk food, but in moderation.

When one of his best friends on the team, center fielder Jordan Hernandez, was recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, Buckley was quick to offer support.

"It's interesting how we both have it," he said. "He's been asking me questions."

Back in 2009, Buckley's mother sent a thank you card to Morrow based on the old MasterCard advertising campaign: "Stadium parking, $8; brunch at Diamond Club, $80; Diamond Club Field Box seats, $860; meeting Brandon Morrow, priceless."

Buckley won't forget Morrow taking the time to speak with him and encourage him to keep his dream alive, and if he ever makes it to the major leagues, he'll be ready to "talk to little kids" just like Morrow did for him.


Twitter: @LATSondheimer