While the coronavirus has taken the baseball season away from us, it hasn’t taken away baseball stories — which have always been the best part of the game, anyway. Two surfaced this week that caught our attention.
Here’s the first: Trey Mancini is a star for the Baltimore Orioles who was coming off his best year (where he was a finalist for Rookie of the Year) last season. During spring training this year, some unusual lethargy prompted a blood test that eventually revealed he has stage III colon cancer. So instead of preparing to face Gerrit Cole on opening day, he was preparing to begin chemotherapy. He wrote about his diagnosis and battle for the Players’ Tribune.
An interesting detail surfaced in his reflections. He has a relationship with a 13-year-old disabled boy named Mo, who’s a big fan in Baltimore:
He and I have gotten to be friends the last couple of years. He’s had bouts with a few different types of cancer, and he’s blind and has a tough time getting around. But he also just has the best outlook on life that I’ve ever seen. … He told me that he was worried about me and wanted to make sure I was O.K. The 13-year-old kid with cancer calling me to make sure I’m O.K.? It blew me away.
Mo and Orioles teammates have rallied around Mancini, and that support is changing his perspective. “It’s given me an appreciation for a lot of things that I’ve always had, but that were getting overlooked as I went about my day-to-day life,” he said. “Going through something like this had really made me understand all my blessings.”
That’s a new way to see the world that wouldn’t have been possible if Mancini hadn’t been open to connecting with others in the first place. If he’d been living in a bubble of self-concern he wouldn’t have met Mo, and he wouldn’t have reached out to connect with his teammates.
Suffering, they say, makes us either bitter or better — Mancini has decided to not let it make him small-hearted. He didn’t shy away from leaning on the people in his life, and the result is that this bout with cancer is revealing to him the gift of our interconnectedness.
Next up: Trevor Williams
This week, the Athletic told a story about the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher and how his family grew this offseason. His wife, Jackie, gave birth to a baby boy just six months after they adopted a baby girl.
The story of their relationship goes back to high school, and through all the ups and downs of a baseball career, all they ever wanted was to be close to family. In fact, during a particularly stressful time, they began a nine-day prayer to St. Jude, patron saint of impossible causes. It’s a prayer that has marked several turning points in their lives: from timely trades, to Trevor’s father finding remission from a life-threatening scare with cancer, to the new life that they are welcoming in their family.
Stephen Nesbitt wrote the story and put it well:
In the quieter moments, Trevor has time to think, to connect dots. And he believes that the prayers he and Jackie spoke four years ago, to be brought closer to family, were answered in a way they never expected. Without this series of fortunate events — a trade to Pittsburgh, a father’s miraculous recovery, a decision to adopt … — Trevor and Jackie wouldn’t have been set on a course to one day raise (their daughter) little JoJo. This wasn’t the plan they had in mind for their family. This is better.
When you read their story, the thing that stands out is that none of it would have been possible without Trevor and Jackie’s clarity on what was important. Regardless of whether a career in baseball worked out, they knew that family is their deepest value. And when they ordered their lives around that value, they found that God was faithful to them in ways they never expected.
Until the Major League Baseball season resumes (maybe late June, fingers crossed), there’s a gaping hole in our national psyche, but these two stories joined for a double-play to get us out of the inning — for this week, at least. These players are as diligent about cultivating their life off the field as on it, and both show a remarkable openness to embrace the unexpected turns their lives have taken.