Trey Mancini has three weeks left in his comeback season, but when prompted, he’s not shy about his offseason plans.
“Probably go into hiding these next couple of months, I think,” the Orioles’ first baseman said with a big laugh Tuesday as he discussed his nomination for the Roberto Clemente Award.
He and his girlfriend, Sara Perlman, will “just get away,” spending the offseason out West after an 18-month roller-coaster ride neither of them could have imagined. In many ways, Mancini, 29, has embraced the attention that’s followed his return to baseball after missing last year battling stage 3 colon cancer. He’s not been shy about signing autographs for fans or answering questions from reporters. He passed on what would have been a much-needed break during All-Star week to participate in the Home Run Derby, hoping his story would inspire others and show what can be achieved after cancer, chemotherapy and a fight that leaves you wondering whether you’ll ever be able to return to what you loved before.
But after a year that’s been draining mentally and physically, Mancini just needs a break.
He might be getting one early. He exited Tuesday’s game against the New York Yankees after one plate appearance because of right abdominal soreness, an issue that has been bothering him for more than a week. Should the injury prove serious enough that the Orioles elect to prematurely end his season — though manager Brandon Hyde said he hoped that wouldn’t be the case — it would disrupt how Mancini said he planned to celebrate next Tuesday’s one-year anniversary of his final chemotherapy treatment: “just playing a baseball game” against the Philadelphia Phillies.
He’s thrilled to reach that benchmark, though. He’s heard frequently that the first year after treatment is the hardest. He undergoes checkups every few months to ensure cancer hasn’t returned, with a confirmation of good health giving him peace of mind for a few weeks. But a sense of dread looms the month leading into the next treatment, each ache or pain putting the same question in his brain: “Is that related to cancer?”
“Everybody told me it would be tough, and they were right,” he said. “There’s a lot of worry, especially when you’re coming up on time to get scans and doing your circulating tumor DNA blood tests, there’s a lot of anxiety that goes into it because you want to make sure you’re healthy and you never want to go through anything like that again. You never want it to come back.
“Balancing that with also playing baseball, trying to be myself, compete at the highest level, it can be tough sometimes, so I’ve learned a lot this year. Especially lately, I feel like I’ve dealt with it and learned how to deal with it, but it took quite a few months for me to do that. So it’s definitely been a year unlike any other in that regard.”
Mancini has frequently let his frustration with his play show on the field, and although his numbers don’t quite live up to his 2019 Most Valuable Oriole campaign, he has still been one of Baltimore’s most impactful players with 21 home runs, 66 RBIs and a .261/.335/.451 batting line — not far below his career line entering this year of .276/.335/.485. Significantly, he ended Tuesday having played in 133 of the Orioles’ 144 games.
“A year ago from right now, I was in a pretty tough place physically,” he said. “When I finished treatments, I knew I had a lot of work to do. I didn’t really want to broadcast it that much at the time, but I was sick, and I was a lot weaker than I had been, so I kind of had to work out basically immediately after my treatments were over. I knew I didn’t have much time to spare and think about what just happened and things like that. I had to get to work. So it’s basically been a year and a half now straight of, every day, hard work.”
It’s paid off. When his 14th home run of this season gave him 100 for his career, Mancini remarked he had worried he would sit at 86 forever. He’s alternated good and bad months, with a 1.179 OPS in September suggesting a strong finish to the cycle. But even in an up-and-down campaign in which much of the spotlight shone toward a struggling Orioles team has focused on him, Mancini has made plenty of time for others, his Roberto Clemente Award nomination demonstrating as much.
“He’s just incredibly classy, very respectful,” Hyde said before Tuesday’s game. “He’s the same guy all the time. Very intense when he plays, but away from the dugout, in the clubhouse and in public, how he interacts with fans, he just treats people with the utmost respect and is extremely generous, very caring. Just a great guy.”
Major league field and catching coordinator Tim Cossins recently recalled all “the little things” Mancini does with fans each day, reveling in connections he — and because of the coronavirus pandemic, his teammates — didn’t get to enjoy in 2020.
“He’s not skipping very human moments with people,” Cossins said. “I take down the lineup card, look down there, and Trey’s signing an autograph for somebody who’s been here all day. I watch him walk back and forth during the game, frustrated, irritated, and regardless of all that, he’s always doing stuff like that when nobody’s looking, when the camera’s not on him. It’s just a testament to what kind of person he is.”
Mancini is savoring those moments and those milestones even more because he wasn’t sure he would experience them again.
“I’ve completely reevaluated priorities, I’d say,” Mancini said. “Before I was diagnosed, my biggest problems in the world were all baseball related. Basically, it was like a slump was the biggest adversity I had to deal with. So, this is something unlike anything that I had ever dealt with before, so I promised myself last year that if I got through this, if I was healthy that I’d wake up every morning, no matter what, and smell the roses, just appreciate being healthy and being alive, and I really try to do that every day, whether I’m feeling good at the time in baseball or not.
“I always try to be appreciative every day. I don’t want to say that I took that for granted before, but I could let a lot of days pass and not really think about those things, so I make sure every day to appreciate where I am.”