Jake Diekman has struggled since he was 10 with ulcerative colitis and the abdominal pains, diarrhea and emergency bathroom trips that it can cause. But the Texas Rangers relief pitcher said he taught himself to block out those symptoms whenever he took the mound.
“You can kind of trick your mind into thinking you don’t have to go,” he said, “that you aren’t in pain.”
But the Nebraska native might not have to trick himself ever again. Diekman, 30, underwent a third and final surgery June 9 at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, where doctors removed his diseased large intestine and created a bypass using his small intestine.
And sometime this summer — maybe not by the All Star break, but soon — he intends to be back on the mound living his baseball dreams.
“I’m not going to stop pitching,” he said.
Nor is he going to stop speaking plainly about an intestinal disorder that others find too embarrassing to talk about. Diekman sells “Gut It Out” T-shirts to benefit the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and raise awareness about a condition that afflicts 1.6 million people.
“I don’t want little kids to have to go through this,” said Diekman, who wore an external colostomy bag to collect waste between his initial surgery in January and his most recent one. “If we can raise awareness, maybe we can find a better medication or a different therapy … that puts it in remission quick.”
Diekman had been on a long train of medications, including the steroid prednisone, which he said made him feel better and lousy all at the same time. But Dr. Robert Cima, Diekman’s surgeon at Mayo, said they were no longer effective. Drugs either don’t work or become ineffective in 25 to 40 percent of cases, he noted.
“Jake was not able to maintain his quality of life. He was not able to maintain the physical activity level he needs,” Cima said. “And given his profession, that was a big issue.”
Most frustrating were offseason flare-ups that caused him to lose 20 pounds. That much weight loss made it harder for him to pitch well in spring training, so Diekman knew he had to make a change — even if he was going to miss part of a season. “It sucks not being able to play,” he said, “but it’s only six months out of my life.”
Diekman’s journey already features plenty of lows and highs: The lefty emerged from tiny Wymore, Neb., got selected in the 30th round of the MLB draft in 2007, struggled in the minor leagues, changed his delivery, and reached the majors with a blazing fastball. Highlights include his Major League debut in 2012, when he pitched out of a jam, struck out three and got a win for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Returning to the mound in good health will be emotional, he said. “I’ll cry. I know it.”