Trey Mancini’s story of overcoming Stage 3 colon cancer and enduring five months of chemotherapy reached millions of viewers of the Home Run Derby on Monday night. That he didn’t win the Derby wasn’t important. He was triumphant in defeat.
Mancini lost to New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso, who won the last Derby held in 2019, in the finals of the event at Denver’s Coors Field.
Enjoying himself immensely, Mancini beat Oakland’s Matt Olson, 24-23, in the first round, and Colorado’s Trevor Story, 13-12, in the second round before facing Alonso, who crushed 35 home runs in the first round.
Mancini said on ESPN after reaching the final round: “It’s hard to put into words. I’m just trying to appreciate everything all day but there are nerves early on, I’m not going to lie. Being in this atmosphere is incredible, especially considering where I was a year ago. I was two months out from finishing treatment. I’m really, really appreciating this a lot.”
Mancini was cheered on by Oriole teammate Cedric Mullins, who will start in center field in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game, former teammate Manny Machado and some other All-Stars, including Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Machado’s San Diego Padres’ teammate, Fernando Tatis Jr.
His personal pitcher was Notre Dame pitching coach Chuck Ristano, whom he had promised a trip to the Home Run Derby after the two paired for a win in the Big East home run contest.
“The Home Run Derby is different than the games, but I’ve never been on a stage like this before,” Mancini said. “And it was just an incredible day, incredible evening, and I was just so honored to be a part of it. And to be asked and to make it to the finals is something that I think we’re going to look back on and really cherish and appreciate.”
In the final round, Mancini went first and powered 22 home runs. Alonso hit his 23rd with 32 seconds still left on the clock.
“I always think I can win, but I also knew who I was going up against in the finals,” Mancini said. “So I watched him in 2019 and I watched today. You know, he makes it look really easy. He’s hitting balls well over 500 feet and didn’t seem like he got too tired, and I got pretty gassed in that last bonus round.
“I forgot that it was a minute less than the last round. Put up a good showing and unfortunately it wasn’t enough, but there’s not much more to say about Pete. He’s a beast out there.”
Mancini acknowledged how fortunate he was to be competing a year after surgery and chemotherapy that forced him to miss the 2020 season and gave him doubts about whether he would come back.
“It was incredible,” Mancini said. “Obviously everybody knows the story by now, but the last year and a half was something you have nightmares about. And to be here a year later and make it to the finals was incredible.
“I knew they changed the rules to the finals and I didn’t know what it was because I didn’t pay too much attention to it early on in the day. I was focused on the early rounds and everything. We had a good time and it was fun to be back with Coach Ristano, so we had a great time out there.”
The power and ease of Alonso’s home run swing will be remembered by those attending the Derby. So will Mancini’s competitiveness, courage and willingness to share his story.
“There’s life after it, and I was diagnosed over a year ago, but you know, when that’s the case and you go through chemotherapy, it’s something that’s still on your mind and you still have to worry about,” Mancini said.
“But I think it can set an example that you have to go back to your normal life, even though you might have this thing hanging over you sometimes. That’s the message that I really wanted to get across is I’m still going through a battle and there’s so many people going through battles still.
“Like I said, by all accounts, you can go back to how you were before. I feel great about my health and where I am and what the future holds but you definitely don’t want to take every day for granted, and I’ve learned that.”