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On the Road: On the call and gluten-free

Eisenberg won't let celiac disease deter his Major League goals
Broadcaster Jake Eisenberg, diagnosed with celiac disease in 2009, is in his first season with the Richmond Flying Squirrels. (Cassidy Koch)
May 30, 2019

Jake Eisenberg is no longer failing to thrive. Eisenberg, a 24-year-old native of Port Washington, New York, serves as communications and broadcasting assistant for the Richmond Flying Squirrels (Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants). This is the latest stop in Eisenberg's ascendant broadcasting career, which has already included stints with

Jake Eisenberg is no longer failing to thrive. 
Eisenberg, a 24-year-old native of Port Washington, New York, serves as communications and broadcasting assistant for the Richmond Flying Squirrels (Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants). This is the latest stop in Eisenberg's ascendant broadcasting career, which has already included stints with the Class A Short-Season Brooklyn Cyclones and Class A Advanced Winston-Salem Dash. Like nearly all Minor League broadcasters, his goal is to one day work at the Major League level. But as he moves forward toward this goal, he's also taking the time to look back.
Ten years ago, on May 30, 2009, Eisenberg was diagnosed with celiac disease.

Eisenberg (right) alongside Flying Squirrels broadcasting partner Trey Wilson.
May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month, meaning there's no better time to make it clear that this writer, like Eisenberg, is among the approximately 1 percent of Americans who have celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the consumption of gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley) leads to damage in the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing nutrients. There is no cure; those who are afflicted have no choice but to follow a gluten-free diet.
The disease can manifest itself in different ways. I was diagnosed in 2012, the end result of a meandering series of events that began when I was rejected from giving blood due to low iron levels. As for Eisenberg, his primary symptom was described to him as a "failure to thrive." 
"I was in eighth grade [in 2009]. I was always small for my age but it wasn't until I got to middle school that I was really small for my age. So much so that I when I had my yearly check-up, I fell off the growth curve," said Eisenberg, speaking last month at the Flying Squirrels' home of The Diamond. "Luckily, my mother [Jill] is a nutritionist, so she has a really good awareness of all these types of things -- noticed it was happening and tried to figure out why, and that's how I ended up initially getting tested for celiac disease specifically.
"And having my mom as a nutritionist, experienced with dietary planning and things like that, certainly made it a much easier transition for me than probably a lot of other people who find out suddenly that they have a diagnosis like this. Just being aware of what I could eat and couldn't eat. When we go to restaurants, what was safe and what wasn't. There are so many things. ... Like, who knew that soy sauce had gluten in it? I certainly didn't, but she did." 

Eisenberg alongside his mother, Jill, at a Winston-Salem Dash game in 2018.
His mother's help was essential, but adjusting to a gluten-free diet is difficult under any circumstance. 
"It was still weird, like the first time I would go over to a friend's house and they were going to order pizza," Eisenberg said. "'Well, I guess that's not something I can have.' Or when Girl Scout Cookie season rolled around and everyone was getting their Thin Mints and Samoas. 'Well, there goes that.' ... But I'll say this, over the last 10 years, we've seen an explosion of gluten-free food options that companies are making in large part because there are a lot of people who are gluten-free by choice -- not necessarily because of celiac.
"It's funny, originally I was really upset at those people who decided to be gluten-free. You can eat whatever you want, and you're choosing not to? That doesn't make sense to me. But I matured enough to realize and understand that the more people who are like that, the more market space there is for gluten-free options and for restaurants to have gluten-free menus. It's really just beneficial to people like you and me that have celiac disease." 
Eisenberg grew up in close proximity to the New York Mets, traveling to their games via the Long Island Rail Road. He was a huge fan of the team throughout his childhood, and his celiac disease diagnosis only strengthened this connection. 
"When I was growing up going to Mets games, Kevin Burkhardt was the field reporter for SNY telecasts at that point," he said. "And he was the first celebrity that I was aware of that had celiac disease. And he used to host a Celiac Awareness Night at Citi Field early on. ... I got a chance to go to a couple of those and meet him and talk to him, about how he managed his lifestyle as a Mets field reporter. Watching him be capable of doing that was really cool, progressing as someone with celiac disease in the sports media world, specifically baseball, following a career path I hoped to follow as well." 

Eisenberg in 2014, alongside former Mets field reporter (and fellow celiac) Kevin Burkhardt.
Eisenberg has never wavered from that career path. He was the sports editor at his high school newspaper and also called games for the student radio station. While attending the University of Maryland, he partnered with John Vittas and Matt Present to form the Maryland Baseball Network. (Like Eisenberg, both Vittas and Present are currently working as Minor League Baseball broadcasters.)
"It's basically a multi-platform broadcast operation," Eisenberg said of the Maryland Baseball Network. "We did live broadcasts of every game, home and road. We wrote feature stories, game recaps. You name it, we were doing it. After the 2015 season we started traveling with the team more and we became the flagship station for Maryland Baseball. And this is what really launched my passion for not only play-by-play, but play-by-play of baseball in general." 
In December 2016, during his senior year of college, Eisenberg drove to the Baseball Winter Meetings in National Harbor, Maryland. His goal was to land a Minor League Baseball broadcasting job.  
"I applied for a bunch of different positions. Some were full-season jobs I wasn't really eligible for because I had to graduate," he said. "I got really lucky that the Brooklyn Cyclones were going to have a number two broadcaster for, I think, the first time in a really long time. It worked out really well. Not only was I able to start my Minor League Baseball career with an organization that's pretty well regarded, I was able to do it for a franchise that I grew up rooting for and 45 minutes from home. It couldn't have been more perfect." 

Eisenberg calls a Brooklyn Cyclones game at MCU Park in 2017.
Eisenberg spent the 2018 season with the Winston-Salem Dash, and he now calls Flying Squirrels games alongside lead broadcaster Trey Wilson. Long hours and frequent travel are part of the job, making it a challenge to maintain a gluten-free lifestyle. 
"You've got to be prepared. Having some protein bars or making a sandwich before I come to the ballpark, which I do every day," he said. "When I pack for road trips, my backpack becomes basically a giant non-perishable lunch box of protein bars, almonds and things like that that I know in a pinch I can do and it'll sustain me for a broadcast if there's nothing available for me to eat.
"It's a little bit easier nowadays, but that's not the case everywhere. I remember last year when I was with the Dash, we did a road trip to Kinston to face the Down East Wood Ducks. There weren't many options there and, truthfully, I didn't prepare very well for that trip. And my mom is going to hate me for saying this, or the fact I did this, but I basically ate Snickers bars for lunch and dinner and had Gatorade in the broadcast booth. That was my main meal for, like, two or three days." 
Celiac disease is undoubtedly an obstacle, but Eisenberg calls it "fairly manageable in the scheme of things." 
"Everywhere I've gone, whoever I've worked with has been incredibly accommodating of my celiac disease and my need to be gluten-free. But I'm also someone who doesn't want anybody to bend over backwards or go out of their way to make sure that I specifically have something to eat when I have taken care of myself for a while now and have a good understanding of what I need to function. I don't want to be a burden to anybody else in that respect. It's a little bit of a guilt thing." 
Eisenberg realizes that, as his career progresses, he could perhaps inspire others in the same way that Kevin Burkhardt once inspired him. 
"It took a little while for me to accept this and embrace it. I never wanted to be 'Jake Eisenberg, gluten-free broadcaster,'" he said. "But what's made it easier now than it was 10 years ago when I was diagnosed is the fact that there are more people who are knowledgeable and more people who are understanding. That's made it a lot easier. That's what awareness is all about."

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter.