Mancini missing teammates during troubling times

There are days when Trey Mancini’s separation from his teammates is a little easier to handle. He’s counting down to his final chemotherapy treatment, and the light workouts that his body allows after recovery keep him focused on the 2021 season. His life is good, and in some ways the best it’s been personally, in spite of the traumatic turn of events.

But there also are days when the exclusion hurts. When the muting of a veteran voice on a young club in pain is almost more than he can handle.

Mancini followed along from home as the Orioles gathered for a second meeting after batting practice at Tropicana Field on Aug. 27 and voted to not play, joining other teams and other sports in protesting racial injustice and police brutality following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.

“Honestly, me not being there was probably the toughest part for me this year,” Mancini said this week in a phone conversation. “Obviously, I want to be out there during the games and everything, but moments like that, I know they had some really serious discussions and emotional discussions as a team. I fully supported what they did and I would have been right there with them by not playing that game.

“This has been a crazy and tumultuous year and time for our country, but as athletes, we have that platform to stand up and show support, especially for our teammates that were feeling hurt. So I really wish that I was there at the moment. I would have been right there with them.

“The defining moment as a team and moments like that bring you closer together, so truly for me, that was probably the toughest part of not being there this year was not being there that day.”

Mancini also missed the chance to say goodbye to teammates who were traded at the deadline. Relievers Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro, who became his friends over the years. And veteran pitcher Tommy Milone, who signed in spring training less than a month before Mancini stood in the clubhouse at the Ed Smith Stadium complex and announced that he had Stage 3 colon cancer.

Alberto-Joy-Mancini-Orange-Away-sidebar.jpgAt least Mancini was spared the deadline rumors that usually follow him. The media gatherings at his locker to get his reaction. He could find the humor in his current situation shielding him from it.

“The drama was a little off this year compared to the last couple,” he said, laughing.

“It was strange. I’m going to miss the guys that got traded, but I know they’re going to help out those clubs so much. It was just weird not being there and being able to give your teammate a hug or wish them luck. I was on MLBTradeRumors on my couch, just looking to see what happened, so it was a little weird from that perspective.”

Trades can’t be judged at their infancy, but Mancini knows exactly what the front office is trying to achieve with the rebuild and is encouraged. He’s read the latest farm system rankings, with MLBPipeline.com elevating the Orioles to eighth this week.

“It’s incredible just in two years,” Mancini said. “Obviously, the rankings are subjective and everything, but to be eighth, that’s an impressive turnaround. When I was coming up through the minor league system, I think we were consistently 29th every year, so that’s a really good turnaround. It shows the guys we picked up in trades and the draft, how good they are, and I know we’ve been drafting a lot of really athletic kids from what I’ve seen and it looked like the return (Mike Elias) got on these trades, the guys are all athletic and can play multiple positions and look like really good players.”

Mancini is tracking the progress of young minor league pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall, who are slotted near the top of the Orioles prospect rankings. He says it’s “pretty incredible” that the club obtained outfielder Anthony Santander in the Rule 5 draft. And he’s been watching Ryan Mountcastle, another player that Elias inherited from former executive Dan Duquette, seize the opportunity to start in left field.

“He’s looking so good and doing so well,” Mancini said. “I’m proud and happy to see how well he’s been doing so far, because it’s not always easy when you get called up to the majors, to go out there and perform right away, and he’s doing it. It really can be tough and some guys can put a little too much pressure on themselves, but he’s done the complete opposite.

“All he does is hit. He’s one of the best hitters I’ve seen and we all knew he was going to get up there and hit and he’s shown what he can do right now.”

Mountcastle slugged his first two major league home runs in Sunday’s game against the Blue Jays in Buffalo, the balls traveling a combined 830 feet.

“His home runs are not wall-scrapers, I’ll say that,” Mancini said. “I learned that pretty quickly when I saw him take BP for the first time and then getting to play with him some in spring training. When he hits a home run, he does not get cheated. It’s a no-doubter every time.”

Mancini intends to be in the same lineup as Mountcastle on opening day 2021. He’s down to his last two chemotherapy treatments - Labor Day and Sept. 21.

“Fingers crossed the final scans look good and everything and I’m good until my three month checkup after that,” he said.

“It’s really nice. It’s obviously the date that I’ve been looking forward to this whole time, just to be done with chemotherapy because it can certainly take a toll on you mentally and physically, but I’m so excited for that date and I’m just hoping the final scans all come back looking good. The battle isn’t totally over at that point, either. You still want to do everything you can to stay healthy and then when I go back in three months, hopefully everything looks good then, too. But by all accounts, it should be a pretty normal offseason as far as getting ready for next year goes.”

Besides playing tennis with girlfriend Sara Perlman, Mancini has been introduced to a workout program that is keeping him in shape while his body undergoes rounds of abuse in order to fight the cancer.

“I’ve been able to do a pretty decent amount, actually, in my off week,” he said. “So the week that I go into treatment and get infused, I can’t really do much. I lose my appetite for a few days and I’m not really able to do much physically. I feel pretty nauseous at times for those few days and don’t eat, but by about Friday, I start to feel pretty decent again. At least to start going for walks and everything like that. And then by Saturday or Sunday, I can start working out.

“I do these 30-minute workouts during the week. They’re really good workouts and it’s really helped me to stay in shape and maintain my weight and strength for the most part. Somehow, and I don’t really know how because I didn’t expect to, especially not eating for those few days after chemo, but I’m able to make it up pretty quickly. I mean, if you look at me you wouldn’t really be able to tell that I’m going through this. But it’s certainly been tougher than it looks on the surface.”

The food cravings fluctuate. Old favorites are removed from the rotation after his stomach has rejected them. Don’t get near him with a peanut butter and honey wrap or anything flavored with truffle.

Mancini also is becoming more health conscious and making lifelong changes in his diet.

“So it switched,” he said. “Early on, all I wanted were either turkey Reubens or Firehouse Subs or Jersey Mike’s, whenever I started to get my appetite back. But as chemo’s gone on, I’ve tried to get myself in the habit of having less meat, especially red meat. I’ve really been trying to have either chicken or turkey once a day for one meal and then the other meal I’ll have like a veggie burger and salads and vegetables.

“As chemo’s gone on, I’ve tried to get myself in the habit of making my diet more like it’s going to be after chemo’s over. During chemo, you want to eat whatever you can, whatever you crave, but at the same time as it’s gone on, I’ve wanted to get myself in the good habit of eating things that limit my chance, I guess, of having to battle this again in the future. I just want to make sure my diet has a lot less meat in it.”

Mancini and Perlman, who left MASN in August 2019, started a podcast over the summer. “Call Your Shot” has aired two episodes and delves more into life away from the field - their relationship and his battle with cancer. Going back to how her visit in spring training became a terrifying trip to the hospital, news of his diagnosis and a phone call to his parents.

“We didn’t want it to be a baseball podcast or anything like that,” he said. “We’ve been through a lot and everybody else has been through a lot this year, but especially with me having to deal with cancer and getting through chemotherapy, it’s obviously been a really tough year. But we were just on the couch and we thought it would be a fun idea to do because we get a lot of messages and people reaching out, wanting to know how I’m doing, how Sara’s doing, having to take care of me a lot of the time. So we decided to just do a podcast and kind of tell everybody what it’s been like this year and try to help raise awareness for colon cancer, too.

“We thought it would be a good way to spread the word and let everybody know how things are going.”

The losses hit too close to home. Like actor Chadwick Boseman, whose colon cancer advanced from Stage 3 to 4. He passed away over the weekend after engaging in a private battle.

“Obviously the Chadwick Boseman news is really tough to see,” Mancini said. “It’s a really scary disease and the fact that he made all those movies and did everything he did without even telling anybody that he had colon cancer. I didn’t know his cancer had progressed to Stage 4 and he still made all those movies. It’s incredible and shows the kind of guy that he was, too.

“I saw videos of him visiting kids in the hospital and none of us had any idea what he was fighting. That was tough news, and as somebody who has colon cancer ... I actually just got off the phone with a man who, he’s in his 80s and he went to Notre Dame. He graduated in the ’50s and he had Stage 4 colon cancer 10 years ago, so I’ve been talking to a lot of people pretty consistently who have had colon cancer. It always helps to talk to somebody who’s been through the same thing and it helps you mentally get through the chemotherapy and know that you can be OK after it’s over.”

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