I have much longer, more complex thoughts on this subject - how illness and baseball are interconnected - but since I'm sleep deprived after a week of chasing after eight 12-year-old boys, you're only going to get a small piece of it. There will be more eventually, though - I promise.
Last night, I had the privilege of witnessing a comeback firsthand. And this wasn't just any comeback - it was one that had been a constant struggle over the past four years. Four years full of periods of optimism and periods of hopelessness; moments of extreme joy and extreme disappointment; years that slid one into another until it seemed like they'd never end. Those four years were full of many changes and unexpected twists - most of them for the worse - but a few things remained constant. The struggle. The pain. The leg problems. They were four years straight from hell.
Life throws us many curveballs along the way, but cancer is one that we're never expecting.
When Alexie (name changed, for obvious reasons) was first diagnosed with bone cancer in her leg four years ago, she was a regular, happy-go-lucky 8-year-old that loved to dance. She went to dance classes, was in dance competitions, and lovedlovedloved to dance. After three years of chemotherapy, bone grafts, and numerous setbacks, though, she lost her the lower portion of her leg to cancer. Dancing? What's that? She hadn't seriously danced in four years.
And yet....there she was last night, standing on stage as the centerpiece of a dance routine. You could tell her one leg was a prosthetic, but that didn't seem to be stopping her. I've never seen a dance so beautiful; she twirled and moved around the stage with her partner a little slowly, but you could tell how much she was enjoying the experience. It was her first time dancing on stage since she'd been diagnosed with bone cancer. She may not get as good at dancing as she could have if she'd never gotten sick, but her joy and passion have never left. Her smile was so big, you'd think that she had just met Justin Bieber. It was, without a doubt, one of the most powerful moments I've witnessed.
I found it odd but fitting that I got to witness such a powerful moment only days after it was announced that the Rays signed Rocco Baldelli to a minor league contract. I love Rocco; much like Tommy, Rocco was my first true Devil Ray love. I wish him nothing but the best in his recovery and I hope he makes it back up to the Rays, but I think we should be honest about it - the odds are he won't make it back. Nobody outside of Rocco knows how healthy he is - or for that matter, knows what his exact diagnosis is - and so I feel like the odds are long that anything will come of his comeback. However, as Alexie showed, there's still joy to be found in doing the thing that you loved most in the world again.
It doesn't matter if Rocco makes it back up to the majors or plays out a couple more injury-filled seasons in the minors because in the end, the most important part of the story is this: Rocco is back playing the game he loves. He's back on the field, fighting away every day to compensate for his illness, and that's more than enough for me. If he can provide value to the Rays down the road sometime, great, that'd always be welcome. But in the meantime, I'm just happy that he's back.