Amid a sea of sluggers at Monday night’s Home Run Derby at Denver’s Coors Field, Orioles star Trey Mancini’s return from cancer took its place on baseball’s grandest stage — and Mancini showed his inclusion wasn’t just a ceremonial one.
Mancini reached the finals of the event after beating the Oakland Athletics’ Matt Olson, 24-23, in the first round, then defeating Colorado Rockies star Trevor Story, 13-12, in the second round.
In the final, however, he ran up against New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso, who set a derby record for home runs in the first round with 35. Mancini set the pace with an impressive 22 home runs, and while both had 17 at the end of regulation, Alonso hit six straight to begin his one minute of bonus time to win the competition.
Mancini said on the broadcast after advancing to the finals that it was an experience worth savoring.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Mancini said. “I’m just trying to appreciate everything all day, but there are nerves early on, I’m not going to lie. Being in this atmosphere is incredible, especially considering where I was a year ago. I was two months out from finishing treatment. I’m really, really appreciating this a lot.”
The Orioles star, who is playing this year after missing all of 2020 battling stage 3 colon cancer, led off the event in his first-round matchup with Olson in impressive fashion.
Mancini had two home runs a minute in and couldn’t find his swing, but called a timeout and got a Gatorade and a pep talk from All-Star teammate Cedric Mullins before going on a tear to end the three-minute regulation round with 19 home runs. Mancini hit five more in the one-minute bonus round to begin the event with 24 home runs.
The second round was more of a grind for each. Story hit 12 home runs and only got 30 seconds of bonus time. Mancini had around 25 seconds remaining when he hit his 13th to secure the win.
The 29-year-old was the reigning Most Valuable Oriole from the 2019 season when his spring training physical revealed low iron levels, eventually leading to the tests that revealed his cancer diagnosis. Mancini had surgery to remove a tumor last March, and didn’t play at all during the shortened season as his chemotherapy treatment helped stop the cancer’s spread.
His return this year has been one of baseball’s best stories. He has received standing ovations at home and on the road, with opponents welcoming him back. He’s been more up-and-down at the plate than he would like, but entered the All-Star break batting .256 with a .791 OPS and 16 home runs.
The last of those blasts came on his last swing of the first half as he came off the bench for a two-out, two-run home run to tie Sunday’s game in the ninth inning and send the game to extra innings.
Mancini said that game being behind him finally allowed him to start thinking about the Home Run Derby.
“No expectations or predictions,” he said Sunday. “I’m just going to try and enjoy it. It’s surreal. It’s something that I haven’t really thought about too much just because we play up until the day before, but now I can turn my attention to it a little bit and I’m really excited.”
Mancini was also excited for the opportunity to hit off Notre Dame pitching coach Chuck Ristano, who pitched to Mancini when he won the 2012 Big East Home Run Derby and promised then that he’d pitch to him again should he ever be in the major league Home Run Derby.
Ristano said before the event that his style of BP throwing seems to work for Mancini, and the two found a groove thanks to the quick pace Ristano threw at.
“A great BP pitcher obviously fills up the zone, works at a good tempo,” Ristano said.
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Their link-up at the derby was an opportunity to honor a Notre Dame teammate, Ricky Palmer, who last year passed away from brain cancer.
At the time of his entry, Mancini said he wanted to use the national platform to show those battling cancer that there’s life after treatment.
He’s taking every opportunity to showcase the causes near to him as well. Pepsi is donating $250 for every home run he hits to the Trey Mancini Foundation to support Blessings in a Backpack, which fights childhood hunger.
He’s partnered with a blockchain platform for an NFT (non-fungible token) launch consisting of unique experiences and memorabilia related to his appearance with proceeds going to his foundation as well.
Mancini was the first Orioles player to participate in the Home Run Derby since Mark Trumbo did in 2016, and the first to make the finals since Miguel Tejada won the event in 2004.
Baltimore Sun reporter Nathan Ruiz contributed to this story.
A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Matt Olson's name. The Sun regrets the error.