Trey Mancini has been at the spring training complex since the beginning of February, but today felt real. The first full-squad workout for the Orioles. Further confirmation that he’s past his colon cancer diagnosis, surgery and the many doubts about whether he’d play baseball again.
Mancini feels the same as he did prior to last March. Perhaps the most taxing activity for him now is convincing everyone who keeps checking on him.
“I know everybody’s been asking me a lot, and I’m not lying when I say I do,” he said today during his Zoom conference call with the media. “I feel no different, whether it’s taking BP ... Even live BP today, we went in there and hit off pitchers and I felt better than I expected to. I felt good. So it was great to get in there and kind of strap it on and get it going.
“From every standpoint of the game, I really do feel just like I did before.”
Less than three weeks remain until the one-year anniversary of Mancini’s colon cancer surgery, followed by chemotherapy treatments that ran until Sept. 21. He informed his teammates of his imminent departure from camp, an emotional talk that hit everyone hard.
“It’s been so great because some of the guys I haven’t seen since I told them last spring training what was going on,” he said. “It was really good to come full circle and get back down here to Sarasota and see everybody in the place that where I left it was really tough and a really hard time. It’s been great to see the guys again and be back in the locker room.
“That’s what I missed last year. It was really weird not being part of the team and away from everybody, so I’m really cherishing being back with everyone.”
“I can’t remember a bigger hug that I gave someone than when I saw him for the first time the other day,” said third baseman Rio Ruiz.
Seeing Mancini as a regular guy again “feels fantastic,” said manager Brandon Hyde, adding that there are no restrictions on him.
“It’s someone who’s just such a class act and so professional. Everybody missed him around here big-time last year, and so to have him on the field, I think it’s uplifting for everybody,” Hyde said. “Everybody knows what he went through and how hard he’s worked to come back, and he looks strong and swinging the bat great. Fun watching him doing defensive drills today. He’s tough not to love and it’s nice having him out.
“Just to see the smile on his face when I got to the ballpark and see everybody else’s reaction to him, that was a special moment.”
Mancini had been hitting and taking ground balls before today’s workout, but the morning was special as he reflected on the horror of his diagnosis and the fears that enveloped him.
“I made sure to enjoy it and cherish today because there were times, especially when I got diagnosed early on, where I wasn’t totally sure if I’d be playing baseball again,” Mancini said, “so just being able to come out here and feel like myself and feel great and participate in everything fully is something that I’m very appreciative of and I don’t take for granted at all.”
The comeback isn’t complete. Putting on a spring training uniform and performing baseball activities is only part of it.
A huge part, of course, but not the finish line.
“In my eyes I’d say more opening day,” he said. “I see that as complete. I’m very proud of where I am right now and I’m extremely happy to be here, but being in a major league game, one of 162, that’s kind of what I always saw as making the comeback.”
Mancini is prepared to feel some soreness, some aches, as he returns to the everyday lineup, where he’s expected to get most of his starts at first base.
“I can say that this offseason I worked out very hard. I mean for like two hours almost every day. So I definitely trained myself to get ready for a season, and I feel great.
“Along with that, I’m going to be 29 next month, too, so I know it’s still pretty young, but in baseball terms I’m going to be another year older and you just want to make sure you get in there on the foam roller, stretch out, do everything you need to do to make sure you’re healthy the full year.”
Having the game taken away from Mancini was, in his words, “definitely tough.” But a cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy treatments shifted his mind to more important tasks.
This was a fight for his life. It wasn’t a three-game series in the Bronx.
“I’d be lying if I said that was the first thing that came to mind,” Mancini said. “The whole time I just wanted to be healthy long term and live a long life. Baseball definitely was on the back burner when I was going through all that. But once chemo ended, I was able to really look forward to baseball again and it’s been driving me and motivating me. But at the beginning and when you’re going through it, baseball was always on my mind a little bit, but I’d say being healthy was always the top priority.
“Up until that point most of my biggest problems or worries were all baseball related. Going through a slump was maybe the worst thing that I had gone through personally and I’m very lucky to have said that at that point. I’ve never obviously been through anything like this with me or a family member, so definitely put a lot in perspective and I’m hoping to take a lot of that into this year.
“Not that I didn’t before, but I really will appreciate being able to play major league baseball every single day.
The support for Mancini is far-reaching and so is the impact he’s having on people dealing with a similar crisis.
“It means a lot,” he said. “Especially because a lot of the people that helped me get last year, I’ve become friends with a lot of colon cancer survivors of all stages and that really helped me get through and realize, it’s not going to be easy going through chemotherapy and it takes a toll on you, but at the same time there’s light at the end of the tunnel and a lot of people go on to normal lives. So you really have to think positive when you’re going through it.
“A lot of people helped me out through my journey and now being able to inspire other people and help other people is what I see as returning the favor and something I want to do.
The goals also take Mancini back to baseball talk. To the sport he loves and tried to stay connected to last summer.
To the period late in his last season in the batter’s box when he began driving the ball more to the middle and opposite field and hit .365/.433/.615 with eight doubles, six home runs and 23 RBIs in 120 plate appearances.
“I got to watch a lot of baseball last year and definitely watched more baseball than I ever have, so I would sometimes just stand up in the living room when a game was going on and do dry swings or something and I made sure I watched some pitchers that I may face this year,” he said.
“I just wanted to continue what I did, especially that September in 2019. I know that’s a long time ago at this point, but just that minor adjustment of setting my sights a little higher. I remember that and that’s still my approach at the plate and it hasn’t changed at all.”
Notes: Chris Davis completed his physical and worked out today. The Orioles have perfect attendance.
Hyde said he isn’t quite ready to announce his rotation for the first few exhibition games.