Gauchos pumped up by a third-string catcher

May 11, 2009

By MARK PATTON, Santa Barbara News-Press

UCSB's bench erupted into cheers when third-string catcher Doug Hansen rapped a pinch-hit single to center field to lead off the ninth inning of Sunday's baseball game at sixth-ranked Cal State Fullerton.

The Gauchos were trailing by 12 runs at the time.

"He's a quality guy and everybody loves him, and they love it when he gets up there," coach Bob Brontsema said. "They know he gives everything he has and that he gives such a good approach up there.

"Everybody pulls for him because they know how hard he's worked just to get here."

But few know just how hard: Their third-string catcher is also a type-1 diabetic.

Brontsema only learned about Hansen's condition at the end of fall drills when he noticed the insulin pump clipped to his back pocket.

"It looked like he was miked up or something," he said. "I asked him, 'What do you have there?' And he told me.

"He really downplays the whole deal."

But UCSB is playing it up on Friday when it holds Diabetes Awareness Day at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium for its 2 p.m. game against Long Beach State. Hansen will be recognized along with a UCSB research team that recently developed the first computer model for an artificial pancreas -- a medical breakthrough for diabetics.

Kyle DeSchryver, a 5-year-old T-ball player who also has type-1 diabetes, will throw out the first pitch.

Hansen never sought to be a role model, although he hopes his ascent as an honor-roll student-athlete will inspire other diabetics.

"My little cousin came down with diabetes just a year ago," he said. "I've never talked to him about it, but I have hung out with him. Maybe when he sees me doing all this, he feels better about it."

Hansen came down with diabetes when he was 3 but he didn't start using an insulin pump until last August.

"I didn't like the idea of something attached to me, 24/7," he said.

Instead, he would stick himself with a needle five-to-seven times a day in the constant process of keeping his blood sugar at the right level.

"I wasn't so smart about it when I was younger, 11-to-12," Hansen recalled. "I'd be running around with my friends and all of a sudden my blood sugar would crash.

"My mom (Janet) was great, though. She would come during lunch time to check my blood sugar at school, and she'd always make sure to chaperone my field trips."

He finally decided to take the insulin-pump plunge nine months ago after finishing his summer season with the San Francisco Seagulls.

"I was worried that I might damage it playing baseball, but I wanted to have control of my blood sugar," Hansen explained. "I just have to make sure I don't slide on that side.

"I was really fortunate that they were able to get it to me so fast. I told them, 'I need this in a month because I'm trying out for a division 1 team.' My doctor (Rosanna Petronella) was really helpful in getting that done."

Hansen had been a star baseball player at Junipero Serra High, leading the San Mateo school to the West Catholic League title in 2004 while batting .467 with four home runs and 35 RBIs.

He also helped the College of San Mateo win a pair of North Coast Conference crowns, batting .296 and .285 in his two seasons.

But UCSB was crowded behind the plate with four returning catchers when he was cut from the team during the fall of 2007.

"Coach Bronts made it clear that it was going to be hard to make this program," he said. "But I wanted to go to UCSB and I love baseball, and I wanted to make it work any way I could."

So Hansen joined the university's club program, and even volunteered to warm up the Gauchos' pitchers on the side.

"When the team traveled on the weekends, I'd catch the guys they left behind," he said.

Brontsema now regrets having cut him before the 2008 season.

"There were some things he needed to work on to compete for playing time, but he does have some division 1 skills," he said. "He's a Thurman Munson-type catcher -- not a great arm, but a real quick release that gets the throw down quickly.

"But more than that, he's an incredible team guy. He catches a lot of bullpens and does a lot of the grunt work -- the lousy things that catchers have to do. It requires a certain type of makeup, which he has in flying colors."

Hansen, for his part, needed the type of program that Brontsema conducts.

"I need to manage my medication to keep my blood sugar at the optimum level during my activities," he said. "If I'm going into a baseball day or doing something athletic, I like to know as much as I can about it so I can account for the activity level.

"Coach Bronts always puts up a practice schedule and makes clear what we're doing, and that's made it easy for me to manage my blood sugar."

In a way, Hansen's diabetes has helped him become a .333 hitter at UCSB -- not to mention a 3.3 student. He plans to take the LCATs next fall and hopes to attend law school after next year.

"I'm really good at preparing, at making a plan and thinking ahead, all the way down to what I eat," he said. "The thing that I really learned with diabetes was to be disciplined. And I think that transfers over to a lot of things."

Brontsema is just glad he didn't transfer after getting cut.

"I should have kept him the first time," he said. "He makes us better, and he fits in with the kids we have."

Even if there is one thing that makes him a little different.