Three weeks before position players had their first workout on Monday, Trey Mancini reported to the Orioles’ camp in Sarasota, Florida. He wanted to get a head start after last March’s surgery for colon cancer and five months of chemotherapy. On Monday, he participated in the team’s first full-squad workout.
“I feel no different, whether it’s taking [batting practice]; we took live BP today,” Mancini said in a video conference call. “We went in and hit off pitchers. I felt better than I expected to. I felt good … From every standpoint of the game, I feel just like I did before.”
Mancini had his surgery on March 12th, the day spring training ended because of Covid-19. He’s thankful for the support he’s received, but on Monday he was thankful just be another player.
“It’s been so great because some of the guys, I haven’t seen since I told them last spring training what’s been going on,” Mancini said. “It was really good to come full circle and get back down here to Sarasota and see everybody in the place here where I left it.
“It was tough. It was a really hard time. It was great to see the guys again and be back in the locker room. That was what I missed last year. It was really weird not being part of the team and away from everybody. I’m really cherishing being back with everyone.”
Mancini was open about his fears and feelings.
“I made sure to enjoy it and cherish today,” he said. “There are times, especially when I got diagnosed early, when I wasn’t totally sure I would be playing baseball again … just being able to come out here and feel like myself, and feel great, and participate is something I’m very appreciative of, and I don’t take for granted at all.”
Manager Brandon Hyde said he doesn’t expect Mancini to be under any restrictions.
“Such a class act and so professional,” Hyde said. “Everybody missed him around him big time last year, and so to have him on the field, I think it’s uplifting for everybody.
“Everybody knows what he’s gone through and how hard he’s worked to come back. He looks strong and swinging the bat great. It’s been fun watching him do defensive drills today. He’s tough not to love.”
The Orioles’ first Grapefruit League game is on Sunday against Pittsburgh at Ed Smith Stadium, but Mancini will mark his true return on Opening Day, April 1st at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox.
“I’m proud of where I am right now, and I’m really happy to be here,” Mancini said. “Being in a major league game, one of 162, that’s what I always saw as making the comeback in my eyes.”
Mancini is preparing himself for a full season.
“I’ll feel it out as I go,” Mancini said. “I might get more sore and might have more aches. I’m not exactly sure of what playing every single day will look like.
“This offseason I worked out very hard, for two hours every single day. I trained myself to get ready for a season. I’m going to be 29 next month, too. I know that’s still pretty young, but in baseball terms, I’m going to be another year older. I want to make sure that I get in there on a foam roller, stretch out and do everything you can do to make sure that you’re healthy the full year.”
Baseball wasn’t always a priority during his treatment.
“It was definitely tough, but at the same time right when you get a cancer diagnosis and you find out you have to go through chemotherapy, you find that you’re not thinking about baseball too much,” Mancini said. “I’d be lying if I said it was the first thing that came to mind. The whole time I just wanted to be healthy long-term and live a long life and baseball was definitely on the back burner when I was going through all that.
“But once chemo ended, I was really able to 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. I’d say being healthy was always the top priority.”
Third baseman Rio Ruiz couldn’t contain his joy at seeing Mancini.
“I can’t remember a bigger hug that I gave somebody when I saw him the first time the other day,” Ruiz said. “You commend everything that he’s done … you can’t even imagine what he’s been through. He’s back here, he hasn’t made any complaints, he hasn’t made any excuses. He’s just excited to be back on the ball field. Definitely a presence that we missed through the clubhouse.”
Mancini returns with a different perspective.
“Up until that point, most of my biggest problems or worries were mostly baseball-related,” he said. “Going through a slump was maybe the worst thing that I had gone through personally, and I’m very lucky to have said that.
“I’d never obviously been through anything like this, me or with a family member. It definitely put a lot in perspective. I’m going to take a lot of that into this year. I really think that I will appreciate, not that I didn’t before, appreciate being able to play major league baseball every single day.”