Blue Jays, JDRF continue to team up for diabetes education

Schultz, Tepera take part in latest PLAY Campaign event at Rogers Centre

Blue Jays, JDRF continue to team up for diabetes education

TORONTO -- It started eight years ago.

The relationship between the Blue Jays and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation began with Dustin McGowan, continued with Brandon Morrow and has since been carried on by the team's staff and trainers because of its success and its importance.

McGowan and Morrow, now with the Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres organizations respectively, are both Type 1 diabetics, and they were the driving force behind the Blue Jays' original PLAY Campaign event -- Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth -- in coordination with JDRF, helping children realize that they can lead exceptional lives even with their disease.

"It's very inspiring," said Catherine Davies, regional manager for the Toronto branch of JDRF. "The kids realize that there are no limits. They have to work harder at it, without a doubt, but there are no limits in terms of what they can do as individuals, which is so important for the kids.

"It's also very important for the parents as well, because it's very challenging. At any second if your child goes too low, they can die. That's the reality of the disease. For a parent, it's also important for them to understand that there aren't limitations and you don't have to put limitations on your children. These athletes are so inspiring."

On the morning of July 30 at Rogers Centre, before the Blue Jays opened their four-game homestand against the Kansas City Royals, relievers Bo Schultz and Ryan Tepera, along with members of Toronto's training staff, welcomed 125 children with Type 1 diabetes for a morning on the field. They were educated on athletics, nutrition and taking care of their bodies, and they got to play some baseball with the big leaguers.

"It would be better to have guys like Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan here, but in the meantime, anything we can do to make their day better is the goal, to have a day on the field that's really enjoyable and memorable for them," Schultz said. "If we can do that, then it's as much of a reward as you can possibly have. It's exciting to be anyone for them to look up to, even if we don't necessarily understand what they're going through in their lives."

Tepera added: "It means a lot. These kids go through a lot in their lives, and for them to come out here and enjoy the time spent out here with us, it's good to be a part of it."

Davies is proud of the relationship that has been built between the Blue Jays and the foundation, and happy that through the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society, they continue to host the children at the ballpark, with new players now at the helm.

"We have families who come back year after year after year," she said. "They look forward to it, it's a part of their summer. It's huge. What the Blue Jays are doing for the kids and the families is amazing. ... It's just such a phenomenal day, and the Blue Jays do it right. They're a great organization to be a part of, and it's been a real pleasure working with them."

One family that has continued to take part in the event through multiple seasons are the Greenbergs. Dana Greenberg was diagnosed a Type 1 diabetic 43 years ago when she was just 7 years old, but the hardest thing she's had to cope with was when her daughter Marley was diagnosed, seven years ago as an 8-year-old.

"Living with Type 1 is so hard, and we try to teach them that it should not stop you from doing anything," Dana Greenberg said. "Having the Jays as role models with Type 1 shows that you can do anything -- even if they're not here -- so it's great seeing the kids and seeing the athletes supporting them.

"Doing sports with Type 1 is harder than not doing sports with Type 1, even though it's good for you. It's quite a challenge, so to see them as role models and that they can do it, it means the kids can do anything they want. ... That's the impact it has on them, being together with the group but also with the role models, and together you take away those boundaries that diabetes tries to give you."

Schultz and Tepera also learned throughout the morning event, with speakers from the Taylor Hooten Foundation, Henry Schein Cares Foundation, and from a number of JDRF representatives.

"I was talking to one of the ladies here about Type 1 diabetes," Tepera said. "My catcher in college [at Sam Houston State] had it, so I knew a little bit about it, as far as when his blood sugars would drop and rise. But she informed me a little bit more."

In the sunshine under an open roof, all of the participants had the time of their lives, and look forward to the next event as it continues.

"The kids really look forward to it," Davies said. "Life with Type 1 diabetes is a very tough life. It's a disease that you have to cope with 24/7, it's a family disease, it brings a lot of trips to the hospital, it brings isolation sometimes from friends because you can't do certain things.

"This means so much to the kids, and to the parents to watch their children with smiles on their faces, getting to enjoy something that's very, very special."

Alexis Brudnicki is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.