“When you hear you’re diagnosed with cancer, like I’ve told you guys, baseball was the last thing on my mind,” Mancini said.
BOSTON — As Orioles star Trey Mancini came to home plate for his first at-bat Friday — making official his return to regular season baseball after missing all of 2020 for treatment of stage 3 colon cancer —Red Sox catcher Christian Vázquez met him before he could step into the batter’s box for a hug.
Later in the game, he got hugs from Boston’s Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers at first base.
It wasn’t the stadium-wide ovation that made his spring debut so memorable, and he had to wait until the eighth inning to collect his first hit.
But for the 29-year-old Mancini, the Orioles’ 3-0 win Friday at Fenway Park represented the most memorable game of his major league career.
“When you hear you’re diagnosed with cancer, like I’ve told you guys, baseball was the last thing on my mind,” Mancini said. “Quite frankly, before I knew anything about the cancer, whenever the doctor told me, I thought I was never going to play baseball again. I made sure to soak it all in, no matter what happened today, and just appreciate doing this for a living. I’m not going to ever take that for granted.
“The fact that I’m a year removed from the diagnosis, going through six months of chemotherapy, a lot of things ran through my mind today — days where I couldn’t get out of bed, days where I was hunched over the toilet sick. It was all worth it to be back here, to be out there with the guys. It’s something that I can’t describe.”
The 29-year-old Mancini wasn’t feeling well all spring training in 2020, and tests eventually found a malignant tumor in his colon. He had surgery to remove it in mid-March, and tests revealed it had spread to some of his lymph nodes, meaning Mancini had to miss the season and have a six-month chemotherapy regimen.
He finished his treatment in September, began working out again in October, and was an early report to spring training to make up for lost time in February.
Mancini said at the beginning of spring training that it wouldn’t be Grapefruit League games that made him feel like his comeback had been completed, but the regular season opener. Still, his first spring game was memorable.
He received a standing ovation from the approximately 1,700 fans at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota on his spring debut on Feb. 28, and singled in his first at-bat back. He had a good spring training, hitting .333 with a pair of home runs and showing that he was close to back to his best.
On Friday, he showed a glimpse of what could make him even better. His first two at-bats were ground ball double plays, which in the past would have caused his frustration to boil over. Manager Brandon Hyde said he could sense it a little in the dugout, and thus joked with Mancini after he pulled a single down the left-field line in the eighth inning about finally getting one through the infield.
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Mancini saw how he bounced back for his sixth-inning walk and that single as progress in how he approaches the game.
“It was surreal, but once the game started — it felt a lot like my major league debut actually, as far as the way that the day went,” Mancini said. “There’s a lot of nerves, a lot of emotions that go along with the day and then once the day starts, it all kind of went away.
“I think in years past, the way I started a game grounding into two double plays, I might have let that kind of spiral out of control. But I did a really good job today. And I told myself after going through this, just wash whatever happened in the at-bat before, good or bad. I feel like I showed that today, and that’s something that I want to carry forward with me.”
Mancini missed all of 2020 due to his battle with cancer but had the best season of his career before that. In 2019, Mancini hit 35 home runs with an .899 OPS while earning Most Valuable Oriole honors that year.
Now that Friday is out of the way, the Orioles quickly shifted from savoring the moment of having him back to expecting more from him the rest of the season.
“It was really special,” starter John Means said. “He’s a great player, great teammate, and just to see him back out there after everything he’s been through, it’s incredible. He’s going to have a great season. I can’t wait.”