Sappelt plays through diabetes, epilepsy
Tyler Clifton | News-Telegram Sports Writer

March 30, 2004 -- Steven Sappelt is living proof that there's life beyond baseball, no matter what the game's purists might think.

Sappelt had to give up the game he loved for two years after being diagnosed with diabetes and later epilepsy.

Sappelt was losing weight in drastic proportions during the seventh grade while on a trip to Broken Bow, Okla. He wound up losing 20 pounds and was basically paralyzed in his lower extremities and couldn't get out of bed. He went into a sugar-induced coma and found out the hard way he had the disease.

As if that wasn't enough, Sappelt points out the time when he got his driver's permit and was on the interstate with his mother and couldn't take his hands off the steering wheel. It turned out he was having small seizures and was later diagnosed with epilepsy.

It drove him into depression when he had to step away from the game, but under constant encouragement from Sulphur Springs teammate Kason Scroggins, Sappelt returned the summer before his junior year and participated on a traveling team and fared quite well.

"I knew then that I would be able to come back and started lifting, running and doing the things I needed to do to get prepared," Sappelt said. "It was nice to be able to play baseball again. I had loved the game up until I was unable to play, and I still do."

Sappelt told head coach Rahn Smith his situation before he came out for the team and advised him on what to do if an emergency situation occurred. Smith said Sappelt has done some good things since he came to the team.

"I didn't know what to expect at first," Smith said. "I knew he had some physical problems, but he's never used them as an excuse to get out of any work. He's had limitations as far as skills go, because he had to take some time off, but he's improved greatly from last year, and whenever the field is open, he's always out there trying to get better."

Zack Wilhite has played baseball since he was seven and grew up watching the Wildcats. He's currently in a battle with Sappelt for right field and the ninth spot in the batting order.

Wilhite thrives under pressure and enjoys head-to-head competition, even though it's with a teammate. He knows it's every man for himself but still understands the ultimate goal is to get this team into the playoffs.

"I expected coming in for us to get better as a team, particularly in district play," Wilhite said. "We have a lot of guys who can play and only a certain number of positions, but we all get along and all want the same things as far as the team goes."

This particular Wildcat team, perhaps more than its district counterparts, has no real superstar, and hitters one through nine are of equal importance.

Whether it's Sappelt or Wilhite who's in the game, the bottom of the order has been the key to the team's success at this point. When the seven through nine spots have gotten on base, the team has succeeded. When they haven't, there have been struggles.

"It doesn't matter which one of us is in the game or where we are in the lineup," Wilhite said. "Our job is to get on base and set the table for the top of the order. When we're hitting the ball, we tend to score more runs."

Wilhite, like Como-Pickton's Blake Jordan, is planning on attending the fire academy at Texas A&M-Commerce.

Wilhite said he thought being a fireman would always be the ideal job and that it would fit with his personality of relishing pressure-packed situations. Smith said his ability to work well with others is Wilhite's finest asset.

"Zack is the ultimate team player," Smith said. "He doesn't start every game but does whatever I ask him to do. He's come up with some big hits, gotten on base and driven guys in. He never complains about anything and is the type of guy any coach would like to have."

Wilhite is proud to wear the Wildcat blue, and said he still looks back to when he and his family would go watch the team play.

"I just remember being younger and watching those guys play ball, dreaming I could be out there someday," Wilhite said. "Now that I am, it feels great to finally be able to play at this level, contribute to this team and run out on that field the way they were able to."

Jarred Beck has Sulphur Springs ties that date back to when his father, Bobby, was an ace pitcher for the Wildcats.

The younger Beck began T-ball at the age of five and has played the game ever since, hitting a lot of home runs along the way. He still has a box full of 23 baseballs that have exited various local parks.

Beck moved up to the varsity team this season, but due to an overload of first basemen, he often finds himself in the unenviable spot of being the designated hitter. Some players have a knack at the position, and although Beck would rather be on the field, he said it's all about doing what's best for the team.

"I knew coming up here I'd have to work to earn a spot," Beck said. "I played a little first base at the beginning of the year but have played designated hitter a lot more recently. I enjoy the position, but it's difficult in some ways, because you can't redeem yourself on the field."

Sulphur Springs isn't a team that thrives on the long ball, as its' combined one home run after 17 games proves, but Beck has the power to put one over the Eagle Stadium fence at any point, and he can't help but admit he hopes it happens soon.

There's a certain pressure that comes with being the designated hitter, and Beck said it has gotten to him at times. He credits it as being a part of the game and said he treats every at-bat as a new one.

"I'm not hitting the ball the way I should be right now," Beck said. "I need to work on sitting back and driving the ball more."

Beck likes to hunt hogs in his spare time and plans to attend the Paris Junior College Technical Center. He lists his father as a role model and said he's the one that got him into the game. Beck hopes to find a successful job and someday raise a family of his own. Smith said there's no limit to Beck's potential.

"I told the players at the beginning of the year they need to take advantage of the time they get," Smith said. "Jarred has done that, and I have confidence in him putting the bat on the ball and driving it into the gaps.

"I think he presses at times and swings at pitches he should take, but it's only because he wants to do well and help this team drive in runs."

Beck said he looks forward to coming back and watching his younger brother, Jeff, play for the Wildcats. He knows there are only nine guaranteed games left for this team, but no matter what happens, there will be no taking the blue out of his blood.

"I hope the seniors take advantage of this situation and have fun with it," Beck said. "There will be some memorable moments, and I know I won't forget the last time I set foot in Eagle Stadium."

Baseball is a fun game no doubt, but whenever people take the game too seriously, they should look no further than Sappelt, who has stared life right in the face.

"I take shots five or six times a day," Sappelt said. "Some say they can't do it, but they would if they had to. You can't take what you do on the baseball field home with you. There are life-or-death situations, and then there's baseball."

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