Jason Johnson Biography
Claim to Fame: MLB player (Cleveland Indians and Camden Riversharks)
DOB: October 27, 1973
Diabetes Type: 1
Born in Santa Barbara, California, Jason Johnson, starting pitcher for the Camden Riversharks, attended Conner High School in Burlington, Kentucky, prior to being signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1992 as an undrafted free agent. The right-handed pitcher has played for a number of Major League Baseball teams, including the Cleveland Indians, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Baltimore Orioles, to name a few.
In 1997, the Pittsburgh Pirates officially drafted Johnson. He played with them until 1998, when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays picked up his contract. In 1999, Johnson was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for two players from the minor leagues. As starting pitcher for the Orioles, Johnson had relatively steady success and remained part of the team for five years. In 2003, Johnson left the Orioles to become a free agent, signing with the Detroit Tigers. Though Johnson remained with the Tigers for two seasons, both were unsuccessful. In 2006, still considered a free agent, Johnson joined the Cleveland Indians’ roster. However, after only a season, talks had taken place to determine whether or not he would remain on the team, be traded, or be released. Before a decision was made, the Boston Red Sox bought Johnson from the Cleveland Indians.
Unfortunately, Johnson quickly found himself in the same position with the Red Sox as he had been in with Cleveland. Again on the chopping block, he made the decision to move to the minor leagues where he signed a contract with the Cincinnati Reds. In 2007, Johnson transitioned to Japan, playing for the Pacific League’s Saitama Seibu Lions. Pitching abroad for only one season, Johnson returned to the United States in 2008, signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In January of 2009, the pitcher received an invitation to train with the New York Yankees. However, a melanoma scare threatened Johnson’s future and, after less then a year of training with the Yankees, he was released in August of 2009. Johnson currently plays for the Camden Riversharks, a professional baseball team from Camden, New Jersey, and part of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, which is not affiliated with Major League Baseball.
Johnson, an athlete with type 1 diabetes, made history in 2004 when he began using insulin pump therapy to treat his diabetes. Though not unusual for a person with type 1 to opt for the pump, Johnson’s decision caused controversy because he wished to wear the pump during a game and sought permission from the MLB to do so. Originally prohibited, Johnson was successful in convincing the MLB that the pump would serve to improve his endurance and cut down on the number of times that the pitcher would have to check his blood glucose levels.
In a 2004 interview with the New York Times, Johnson stated, “'Basically, it gives me one less thing to worry about when I'm on the mound… I’d rather just worry about the hitters I'm trying to get out. I don't have to check my blood sugars as much during the game. I'd have to check them four or five times a game before, whenever I pitched. Now it's maybe just once.'' The pump allows Johnson the peace of mind of knowing that, if he experienced a high or low, he could compensate for it without taking away from the game.
In a 2006 Interview with MLB.com, Johnson described the appearance of the pump and how unassuming it is. Without having to constantly worry about his illness, Johnson often forgets the pump is attached to him, stating, “A lot of people think I'm mic'd up…A lot of people still don't have a clue what it is yet. The pump hasn't bothered me at all. It's on the back of my belt. I know it's there, but it really doesn't affect me at all."
Johnson remains dedicated to the pump and does not shy away from discussing his career as a professional athlete with diabetes. A fierce supporter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, in 2005, Johnson teamed up with JDRF to coordinate an event in Detroit’s Comercia Park. The event brought attention to the increasing numbers of people developing type 1 diabetes and raised $60,000 for diabetes research. In 2001, Johnson received the Tony Conigliaro Award for his success despite his diabetes. The Conigliaro Award is an award given to an individual who possesses courage, determination and dedication in the face of hardship. Johnson, who has always acknowledged his diabetes and used his struggle to better himself, continues to strive toward excellence in his health and his career. Working with charities and nonprofit organizations like JDRF, Johnson has proven himself to be a powerful role model for people with diabetes.
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