Each year, the Giants hold “Fellowship Day,” where a handful of players take a small stage in Triples Alley to speak to fans about how their faith has helped them in their lives, professionally and privately.
Saturday, one of those players was Giants reliever Hunter Strickland, who took the opportunity to bare his soul to a couple hundred fans scattered throughout the AT&T Park outfield, sharing for the first time his two-year battle with a chronic condition called Ulcerative Colitis.
Strickland admitted to fans in attendance that part of him wanted to back out of the event after he took the loss in an 11-inning battle with the Mets earlier in the afternoon. But he said his faith brought him out anyway, as he hoped to use his platform to inspire others.
“We didn’t really know what was going on at the beginning. The elevations in blood levels and stuff were out the roof, and last offseason they actually figured out that I have something called Ulcerative Colitis.”
He first experienced symptoms in 2016 and was hospitalized in each of the past two offseasons with issues stemming from the autoimmune disease that is a form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Most recently, he experienced some concerning side effects from a medication prescribed to treat it:
“In Spring Training the medication they originally had me on was causing my liver enzymes and stuff to go out the roof. They actually had to do a biopsy of my liver during Spring Training and everything checked out. We found out it was the medication—thank god that it wasn’t anything worse—and switched the medication.”
While he has kept his health issue private until Saturday, Strickland said his teammates know what he’s gone through and have been supportive. He even found out from fellow bullpen denizen, Sam Dyson, that he’s not alone in the baseball community.
Dyson’s former teammate Jake Diekman of the Diamondbacks (formerly of the Rangers) has been dealing with the same disease for years and formed the Gut it Out Foundation in 2015 to offer support to the IBD community and funding to education and research on the incurable disease.
“I actually talked to [Diekman] a little bit. I guess Dyson played with him in Texas and he told me about [how] he was going through the same thing and [about] his foundation. So I actually reached out to Jake and we spoke.”
He said he hopes to join Diekman in his efforts to help others dealing with Ulcerative Colitis and he plans to offer his support to Diekman’s foundation in any way he can.
Giants Manager Bruce Bochy said he’s been impressed with Strickland’s resilience as he’s endured with the struggles associated with his health issues:
“He hasn’t let this slow him down any as far as how he goes about his business, how he pitches and it is something he’s had to deal with, but he’s dealt with it in such a great way that he’s still going out there competing and doing all he can.”
He admitted to fans that this battle is something he’s kept quiet about and he has, at times, allowed the frustration and emotions he’s dealt with to bubble over in the form of anger:
“I’m not too proud about [it]. I kind of hold things in a little bit and try to just deal with it myself, and obviously it comes out eventually in some way. Not that that’s any kind of excuse or anything that’s just the way I’ve always been, so opening up about it and trying to help encourage people that are going through similar things or the same thing—I think that’s really why I’m here, to share while I’m in this position.”
Strickland told SFBay the experience of sharing with fans Saturday was “outside my comfort zone,” but in the end, the experience was a positive one and he hopes to use his platform to help others.
“Just seeing the response it had on some people—I had some people reach out on social media, I had some people come up and pray with me yesterday after the event and talk to me about the things they were going through. So it was really crazy to see that bigger plan actually playing out.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Ulcerative Colitis as a form of Irritable Bowel Disease, it is instead a form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.