Trey Mancini played his first game for the Orioles in nearly a year on Sunday, and though it was just the first Grapefruit League game of the season, it was special.
Last March 12, Mancini underwent surgery for colon cancer and missed the season as he underwent five months of chemotherapy.
Mancini was back, getting a single to center in his first at-bat, striking out in the third inning, and making a throwing error at first, allowing the Pittsburgh Pirates to score two runs.
“I really tried to appreciate and cherish today,” Mancini said in a video conference call after he left the game, which was won by the Pirates, 6-4. “I see it as a really big first step.”
When Mancini came to bat, the crowd of 1,705 at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida, which was limited to 25 percent capacity, stood and applauded. His teammates and the Pirates also applauded, and the home plate umpire gave Mancini extra time to soak in the moment. Everyone seemed to realize its significance.
“It was amazing,” Mancini said. “I almost teared up a little bit. I’m not going to lie. Everybody gave me a standing ovation. I saw the guys on the field clapping on the Pirates, and in their dugout, of course, our team and our fans, and it meant the world to me. It was a really cool moment and one of my favorite moments in my baseball career.
“I think it was a huge moment for me, personally, getting back in a game, just another milestone that I could check off here.”
It was a day he won’t forget.
“Definitely was a moment where I felt like it came full circle,” Mancini said. “I thought more about everything that happened today than I have in a long time. I’ve tried in a lot of ways to move on and not think too much about last year.”
On Sunday, though, he took time to savor the moment before moving on.
Manager Brandon Hyde appreciated that Pirates manager Derek Shelton, pitcher Chad Kuhl and catcher Tony Wolters recognized the moment.
“Really cool, hats off to all the fans who were here, recognizing and acknowledging Trey,” Hyde said. “[The Pirates were] giving him a little bit of time, recognizing that it was special moment for Trey. It was a goosebumps moment. I thought it was just a real class act by the Pirates and the fans.”
Thomas Eshelman, who started for the Orioles and allowed two runs in the top of the first, realized that this wasn’t just another spring training game.
“That was special,” Eshelman said. “I was obviously just got caught up with what just happened with myself, selfishly … I look up and see everyone standing for Trey. Of course, I immediately started clapping my hands. It’s something that is super special to happen to a great human being, and I’m just excited to have him back on the field.”
Mancini wasn’t critical of his at-bats.
“I felt better at the plate than I expected,” Mancini said. “For the most part, I felt like I had a good mindset up there, picked up where I left off. Still some work to do in some places, but I’m really happy with how today went overall.”
He also wasn’t overly critical of a throwing error to second that allowed two runs to score
“Of course, the first ball that I get is a double-play ball,” Mancini said. “I actually thought I made a good throw there. [Bryan] Reynolds made a really good baseball play there to get on the outside of the baseline, and he got his hand up as the ball was coming up. It was a really good play on his part, but next time I’m going to make sure I get that throw a little more to my right. I learned the hard way there.”
Mancini’s final game of spring training 2020 came on March 2nd, almost a year ago.
“For as much that happened last year, it didn’t really feel like a year since I played,” he said. “We’ve gotten some live at-bats, too, and that really helps … seeing live pitching, that’s the biggest name of the game. Whether it’s been six months since I’ve seen live pitching like normal or a year, it’s going to look at little fast and everything at first. It really doesn’t feel any different than any other first game of spring training.”
Mancini praised his girlfriend, Sara Perlman, and his parents as well as an aunt, uncle and cousins, all of whom came to the game. He made a point to thank his surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, his oncologist, and the nurses.
“Nobody was able to go to treatments with me, so the nurses, too, helped me get through the treatments. They were amazing. There’s a lot of great people you’re going to meet along the way that helped me through it.”
Hyde said that Mancini will play every other day initially. After taking Monday off, he’s scheduled to play against the New York Yankees on Tuesday in Sarasota.
“I really want to feel ready for the season,” Mancini said. “Just like every other spring training.”