blood and baseball

In honor of it being opening week across America I have decided to share my thoughts on how blood donation, or collection rather, is similar to the great American pastime of baseball.


I came to this realization last year and have started approaching each donor as the next game and myself as the pitcher.  Hopefully, even if you know nothing about baseball you are at least aware that there is a pitcher and what his role is and you are able to follow me into this analogy.

The body doesn’t want to give up its blood.  Arms are the batters I am staring down trying to slip the needle past to fill up the 450 ml bag.


Here are the different scenarios in this game:

Sometimes I have no issues.  Good needle placement, bag fills somewhat slowly but I make it to the full 450mls —> Win

Sometimes I have the perfect needle placement, the bag fills in record time, there is no splatter and are no mistakes and I have the full 450mls —> Win, No-hitter

Kansas City Royals v Boston Red Sox

BOSTON – MAY 19: Jon Lester #31 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after throwing a no hitter against the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park on May 19, 2008 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Sometimes I know I missed the vein at first but am able to reposition and squeeze a full bag out of the donor —> Comeback win

Sometimes I miss the vein but am able to get help from another tech who can come in and reposition the needle to fill the bag —> Bullpen win

Sometimes I start off with the needle placed properly but the arm moves so the blood flow starts to slow.  After letting this happen for a while I reposition and am able to finish strong —> Rain delay, win


Rain delay Fenway Park in Boston Wednesday, May 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Sometimes I get the needle in but the blood is flowing so slowly it clots in the line collecting only 50 or so mls in the bag —> Rain out, game postponed

Sometimes I miss the vein.  I try to reposition with zero success.  I call for help.  My other techs cannot get the blood.  We all finally throw in the towel and give up —> Loss


Those are the different situations I can find myself in while attempting to draw blood from our wonderful crew members.

In addition, I see veins as my different pitching options.

Center AC- Fastball, obvious choice but some days the batter will hit it out of the park all day long and in this analogy where I’m the pitcher the last thing I want to do is throw home run balls.  I’m forced to stick with the curve: the cephalic (side vein).  It doesn’t anchor well but for some reason is untouchable – like A 23 year old Beckett pitching a two foot breaking ball for the Marlins in the series against the Yanks in 2003.  I slide the needle right past and save the fastball for another day.

Florida Marlins celebrate

BRONX, NY – OCTOBER 25: The Florida Marlins hoist up pitcher Josh Beckett #21 the 2003 World Series MVP after defeating the New York Yankees 2-0 in game six of the Major League Baseball World Series on October 25, 2003 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. Beckett pitched a complete game shut-out in clinch the series for the Marlins. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)


But the real connection comes with the mental game.

Pitchers get up on the mound, throw out the first pitch and see where the game goes.  The first pitch and first few innings often set the pace of the game.  If it goes well the pitcher is in the zone and continues to throw outs.

However, if it starts off poorly the batters can get into the head of the pitcher.  Each hit builds on the one before.  Pitches aren’t placed where they are supposed do.  The fastball doesn’t have enough on it.  The curveball hangs.  The pitcher looks over and sees the pitching coach on the phone in the bullpen.  He knows he’s on his way out.    Slowly the manager makes his way out to the mound.  The only things left to do is hand the ball over and hope for the best.


The pitcher is then left to sit with this for the next five or so days until he can once again stand on that mound and face the next batter.  Whether throughout the game or between games in a pitching rotation, success builds on success but failure tends to pile on failure.

The same goes with blood collection.  The more clean “wins” I get in a row the more confidence I have.  The more “losses” or even “bullpen wins” I get, my confidence slowly fades.  It gets to the point that I can’t even strike out a blind man, figuratively speaking.  I just have to say, “Take me out coach.”

At this point really, the only thing to do is just keep trying.  Hoping the next unit will go a little better.  Slowly, I make my way back.  The draws may not be pretty but each win is positive reinforcement and once I get into the zone a winning streak can last for weeks.

So thank you to my losses who put up with the errors and discomfort. Thank you for my rocky wins to let me back in the game. Thank you for my bullpen who have come in a saved the day and thank you to my no hitters out there who build my confidence more than anything.  This ship could literally not operate without you all.

Photo Credit Katie Keegan

Patient Sambany with 14 of his 17 total blood donors.  Read his story here. (Photo credit: Katie Keegan)


And remember, in life, baseball and blood collection – You win some, you lose some and some get rained out.