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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Noodle and Goldy: Ferris baseball seniors thrive despite life-threatening illnesses

Nick McGoldrick, left, and Nick Morin play baseball for Ferris High School. Both have faced medical challenges to stay on the field. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

It sounds like a buddy cop movie from the ’80s: Noodle and Goldy.

In reality, they are a pair of pretty remarkable senior baseball players at Ferris that have both overcome and played through serious health conditions and have not only contributed, but thrived.

Nick Morin – Noodle – has always been the smallest kid on the team. Barely 5-foot-4 and 120 pounds soaking wet, Nick’s diminutive stature is due to a congenital heart condition he’s had since birth, which required surgery as an infant.

Nick McGoldrick – Goldy, obviously – discovered he was Type I diabetic after a bout with mononucleosis at the start of his sophomore year, which triggered a 35-pound weight loss and over one month of missed school.

But on Monday and Tuesday, the pair was active and contributed to the Saxons (10-8, 9-7) splitting two games with Lewis and Clark (6-12, 5-11) to stay alive for second or third place in the 4A Greater Spokane League regular season standings, hoping to avoid finishing fourth and Tuesday’s play-in game to the 4A District 8 tournament against LC.

After Central Valley’s split with GSL 3A leader Mt. Spokane (15-3, 14-2) earlier this week, the Bears (13-5, 11-5) and Mead (12-5, 11-5) both have five losses and if Ferris sweeps CV on Thursday and Saturday, all sorts of tiebreakers could be invoked.

“If we pitch well and play defense and put the ball in play we have a great chance,” Ferris coach Scott Ward said.

“It should be a fun few days.”

From the beginning

Morin plays second base and pitches in relief for the Saxons. It’s something of a miracle he’s able to play at all.

Morin was born with a condition called tricuspid atresia, where the tricuspid valve in the heart is missing or underdeveloped, limiting blood flow to the lungs. He had two open heart surgeries, at 4 months and 2 years, and ended up with a single left ventricle.

He developed a complication from the second surgery that caused a leak from his lymphatic system into his lungs called plastic bronchitis. The fluid can build up inside his lungs, so he does daily breathing treatments and uses an airway clearance vest to manage it.

It caused the family to move from the elevation in Colorado to Spokane. With his competitive athletic career coming to a conclusion, he hopes to visit a specialist in Philadelphia this summer with the hopes of fixing the leaking problem with a new procedure.

Morin hasn’t let his condition rule his life.

“I don’t think it affects me as a person. I don’t let it define me. I’ve just dealt with it and it’s become normal for me.”

Morin said he’s overcome the challenges of his size by hard work and determination.

“I feel like I can do what everyone else does even though I’m this size,” he said on Monday. “It’s driven me to just be better and to be the best I can be. If I can’t be as good as these guys because they’re bigger than me then I just have to do the best that I can.”

He gets tired quicker than others and breathing in the infield dirt hurts on occasion, but he always pushes through.

“If I was a big guy with the skill level and coordination I have now I think I’d have been pretty good. I can’t do anything about it though so I do what I can.”

Morin admits he doesn’t really have the arm strength to pitch over the top so in middle school – after watching a Spokane Indians pitcher throw sidearm – he developed a three-quarters delivery that makes him effective as a reliever. He pitches exclusively out of the stretch and throws a fastball he keeps down in the zone, a slider and a changeup that floats to the plate then drops – precipitously.

“I don’t throw that hard so if I can throw different than other pitchers then I can be better,” he said.

Morin threw two innings of relief in Monday’s win and picked up a win earlier this season, tossing two innings of shutout ball in extra innings.

“He’s got great hands at second and his release is so quick he’s very good at turning the double play,” Ward said.

Morin acknowledges that his and McGoldrick’s challenges serve as motivation to his teammates.

“I think the two of us, we play pretty hard. I think everyone can feed off of that. If we can do it everyone else can too.”

“They way both those kids have handled it, I’m not ever sure how much some of the other teammates really know what they go through,” Ward said. “They’re aware, but it’s not like a daily thing. They’re just so on top of it all the time that they don’t miss a beat.”

Coaches have to deal with injuries all the time. It’s rare, though, that a high school coach would have to deal with one player with a potential life-threatening illness, let alone two.

Ward says the two make it easier on him.

“It’s not a challenge for me at all,” Ward claimed. “They’re both so good at managing their health issues. McGoldrick is probably the best I’ve ever seen with managing his diabetes and being able to compete at a high level without having to miss school or miss a game.

“And Noodle, we’ve never had any sort of issue that we’ve had to make attention to with him. He just manages it. They’re just both on top of it.”

A developing situation

McGoldrick knew something wasn’t right.

In the late summer before his sophomore year, he started feeling bad. Tired. Lethargic. Losing weight inexplicably. Out of sorts.

He went to the emergency room and they knew right away – he had mononucleosis. He lost a total of 35 pounds, to the point that the bones in his face were obvious. He was in ICU for two days and recovery another week. All told, he missed a month of school.

“It was hard to come back to school and sports after that, because I was expected to get back in the weight room and I was down 35 pounds and still not feeling good. So it was hard.”

What they didn’t know immediately, and eventually came to realize, was McGoldrick was Type I diabetic.

“At first I was just blown away with what I was just told,” he said. “How in an instant my life changed.”

McGoldrick was fit with an insulin pump and now must monitor his blood sugar and apply outside agents (insulin, food) to ensure it stays within an acceptable range to keep him in balance. It’s a constant struggle and athletics exacerbates the symptoms.

“My pancreas is totally non-functional so I have to do it myself.”

He keeps a one-pound bag of Skittles in the dugout with him and maintains a “high” during games to guard against his blood sugar dropping to dangerous levels.

“During a game it pretty much affects me the whole time,” McGoldrick explained while admitting that anxiety can also affect his blood sugar numbers. “Sometimes I’ve had to stop and go eat real food or come back and deal with it.

“I’ve taken an at-bat while chewing Skittles.”

He hasn’t “bonked” on the field, but has admitted there have been times where his blood sugar has dropped to dangerous levels.

“There’s been times where I’ve been 30 – that’s life threatening – and we’re supposed to call an ambulance at 30. But I have emergency stuff I shoot my leg with and sit it out for 15 minutes then get back in the game later.”

Nondiabetic blood sugar levels should range from 70-99.

McGoldrick’s father can also monitor his son’s blood sugar remotely from the stands as a precaution.

McGoldrick explained that because of the weight and strength loss he had to completely “rebuild” how he plays baseball.

“It constantly affects me,” he explained. “If I’m low I can’t hit. Sometime the anxiety triggers it. I can feel my heartbeat behind my eyes. Then if I’m super-high I’m just slow and angry about everything.

“Slow and angry doesn’t go at all with baseball.”

He’s had to learn that dealing with his condition is as much mental as physical.

“It started off pretty bad but now it’s been OK,” he admitted. “I’m not too upset if I get low or high during a game. I just realize that’s what I have to deal with and do something about it.”

He still hopes to play college baseball, a lifelong dream. He’s been accepted at Whitworth for his studies but is contemplating delaying it for a chance to walk on the team at Spokane Falls to continue building strength and his baseball resume.

“I’ve been playing baseball since t-ball, as early as I legally could, and I wanted to play in college,” he said. “My parents always told me it could be a great gateway into college. It’s always been my dream to play.”

“Once he goes to college and is working on baseball every day, I think he’s going to really grow into a big asset for whoever is lucky enough to have him,” Ward said. “He’s just has so much athletic ability.

“They’re just two pretty tough, strong-willed kids that aren’t going to let things affect them in their baseball career.”