TOOELE — In his senior season, Stansbury’s Wyatt Branch has elevated his game. By dedicating countless hours to baseball, a game he’s played since early in his youth, his final high school hurrah is becoming worthy of the record books.
The Stallions (17-5) enter the first round of the 3A playoffs Saturday as the Region 11 champs after winning 14 of 16 games to finish out the regular season. That, in large part, is due to Branch’s performance at the plate. The 6-foot-1 shortstop has whipped six triples — the eighth-best single-season mark in state history — and totaled 31 hits, which ranks 10th all time.
“He’s our No. 2 hitter and he gets things going at the beginning of the lineup,” Stansbury coach Ray Clinton said. “He’s putting the ball in play. He’s making things happen. He’s one of the reasons why we’ve been so successful the last few years.”
But for Branch, the individual accolades are buckled in the back seat. This season, having an opportunity to watch a younger shortstop suit up has been most memorable. That shortstop is Wyatt's 12-year-old brother and best friend, Drake, who was diagnosed with severe Type 1 diabetes in January.
“I was mainly shocked and didn’t really want to believe it, but I kind of had to deal with it,” explained Wyatt.
Wyatt and Drake’s parents, Steve and Susy, became aware of a potential health problem while attending a Utah Jazz game Jan. 30.
“We saw (Drake) walking up and down — we were sitting in a different area than him and his sister — but he was walking up and down the aisle several times and we didn’t know what he was doing,” Steve said. “We found out he was going to the restroom (and) he started to look ill. So, the next morning that increased and Susy took Drake into his doctor and when he saw him he said immediately, ‘Get him up to Primary Children’s (Medical Center).’”
Type 1 diabetes is often referred to as the “silent killer” because of potential complications that include heart and kidney disease, hypertension, blindness, amputations, and nervous system and dental disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I was very worried — scared,” Drake said.
To survive, Drake counts the carbs in his meals and adjusts appropriately with how many units of insulin are needed to cover the intake at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then, he has to inject strong-acting insulin before bedtime. In total, he needs four to six shots per day. Because of the new daily regiment, the Branches were unsure whether Drake would be able to continue to play baseball for the Stansbury Stealth this spring.
“We realized this would take a lot of his time throughout the day, so we didn’t know how it was going to affect his sports,” Steve said. “Initially that wasn’t our main concern, but when baseball season started rolling around we didn’t know how that was going to affect him. It was definitely a consideration that we had.”
Sensing his brother’s apprehension and frightfulness, Wyatt took it upon himself to encourage Drake to use baseball as an outlet to help him understand that he’s much stronger than the disease coursing through his veins.
“He looked — I don’t want to say helpless — but he looked like he didn’t know what to do. So, that motivated me to help him keep going,” Wyatt said. “There’s professional athletes, and some of the great baseball players like Ty Cobb and Jackie Robinson who also had diabetes and still created a legacy for themselves — it’s still possible.”
Doctors explained that Drake could continue playing sports, but monitoring his blood level was critical due to the vast amount of physical and mental exertion.
“When we watch him, if he’s not taking care of himself — doesn’t matter if he’s been playing for 10 minutes or an hour — you can tell,” Steve said. “In order for him to play at the peak of whatever his current ability is he has to simultaneously manage his blood sugar levels.”
After the original shock dissipated, Drake accepted his disease and is playing the sport he loves because of the bigger brother that picked him up rather than pushed him down.
“It means a lot that he encouraged me and I’m grateful to have him as a brother,” Drake, who also wears his brother’s No. 7, said. “He told me to keep playing sports and don’t let diabetes get in your way.”
“When you’re living through this whole thing you don’t really realize the impact the entire family units can have on something like this,” Steve added. “We’re just fortunate that our family pulled together and was able to help Drake through this. There’s never been one second of thought after he started playing again this year that he would let diabetes affect anything he did. I’ve never seen him use it as an excuse or a crutch. He’s handled it up much better than I probably would have.”
With the fear of diabetes in the rearview mirror, life has returned to the simplicity of two brothers playing catch.
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