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Blessing in disguise: Woodstock's Martin not slowed by diabetes

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Woodstock River Bandits pitcher Willi Martin walks onto the field carrying his glove and his insulin during a recent game. Martin suffers from Type 1 diabetes and takes insulin and monitors his levels with an insulin pump. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Woodstock River Bandits pitcher Willi Martin displays an insulin vial and needle. Martin, who has Type 1 diabetes, has to monitor and administer insulin to control the illness. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Woodstock River Bandits pitcher Willi Martin, who has Type 1 diabetes, monitors his levels and administers insulin to control the illness. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Tommy Keeler Jr. - tkeeler@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- Willi Martin couldn't believe his ears.

The current Woodstock River Bandit was almost 16 years old when a doctor in told him he had type-1 diabetes. Martin wasn't sure what to think, and thought his whole life was going to change for the worse. Instead, the Tampa native said his life has changed for the better.

"It was awful -- I had no idea what to do," Martin said. "Just the thought of pricking yourself with a needle and taking shots was just crazy. I had no idea. I thought this is the worst possible thing ever.

"I got it right before the summer time. So, that whole summer I learned to adjust to it. And after that summer I took it as almost as a blessing."

Martin said he had what he thought was a sinus cold for two years. Finally, it started to get so bad that he could hardly move. He went to see yet another doctor, and this one decided to run a blood sugar test and discovered that Martin had diabetes.

Martin said everything changed, and it's helped him grow as a person.

"I think it's made me a lot stronger as a person," Martin said. "It makes you eat healthy. It helps me learn that life is really fragile. If I didn't have type-1 diabetes, I'd take everything for granted. But, you never take anything for granted because you know life is so fragile.

"You can't even take baseball for granted, because I thought even that was going to be taken away from me."

Baseball has always been a big part of Martin's life. Martin's father played at the collegiate level, and his younger brother has signed to play at the University of South Florida next year.

"I always loved baseball," Martin said. "Baseball was the first thing I learned to do. My dad had me playing baseball before I could even walk. He stuck a baseball in my hand, and I just had a passion for it ever since."

Just like Martin learned to adjust to having diabetes off the field, he also learned how to adjust to it on the field. Martin said he checks his blood sugar constantly and he knows it's important for the blood sugar not to be too high or too low.

As a pitcher, Martin makes sure he's ready for every game whether it's in relief or as a starter.

"I usually take precautionary measurements before and after every game," Martin said. "And eat all the right things and make sure it's good, especially if I'm relief pitching. I'm always making sure during the game that it's good in case I go in. And when I'm starting pitching, I make sure all day the day before, and the night of, and the day of, that I'm eating all the right things and exercising the right amount. And doing all the right stuff to make sure that it's going to be stable for the game."

Martin rebounded well after finally having the diabetes diagnosed in high school. He helped lead his high school team, Jesuit High School, to the No. 1 national ranking most of his junior year. Martin had a 10-1 record that season for Jesuit.

Martin currently plays at Liberty University, where next year he will be a redshirt sophomore. Martin said he struggled his freshman year with the Flames and didn't pitch a lot.

Last summer he played in the Coastal Plain League for the Florence (S.C.) Red Wolves. His manager there was Phil Betterly, his current manager at Woodstock.

Martin went back to Liberty this year, but suffered a shoulder injury and never recovered. He took a medical redshirt, and decided to follow Betterly to Woodstock this summer.

"I knew he was a good coach," Martin said. "So I wanted to play for him again."

Martin said he struggled early in the Valley League season, but has pitched much better since the All-Star break. Martin said the biggest key has been that he's started to relax.

In his last three outings, Martin has pitched 10.2 innings in relief and has given up only three hits and two runs, while striking out 15.

Betterly said it's been nice seeing Martin start to pitch the way he's capable.

"This is very valuable time for him to get his experience and be able to go back to Liberty and show what he can do," Betterly said. "He's improving every time. He's getting more confidence in his stuff, too. I tell him to go out and pitch like he's in Little League. Just relax and have fun."

Betterly said the 6-foot-4 Martin has a lot of potential, and as he gets more confidence his game will continue to soar.

"He has great stuff. He's 88-92 with his fastball," Betterly said. "He's got pro stuff. He's got a pro build. Every time he's out there, he gets better. Once he keeps getting more experience, he'll get more polished.

"It's going to be exciting to see in the future."

The River Bandits have clinched a playoff spot. Martin said he's really enjoyed playing for the River Bandits, and said he loves the area and the enthusiastic River Bandit fans.

Martin has a lot of potential ahead of him. However, no matter what happens with his baseball career, Martin said having diabetes changed his life in a good way.

"I feel like God only chooses certain people that are tough enough to handle something like that," Martin said. "It's a blessing. It lets you know that you can't take anything for granted. Even the worst times in life can turn out to be good things."

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