Orioles’ Trey Mancini cherishes first team workout after fight against colon cancer

JON MEOLI
The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, file photo, Baltimore Orioles' Trey Mancini (16) celebrates his solo home run against the Detroit Tigers in the sixth inning of a baseball game in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

When he was furthest away from baseball and in the midst of chemotherapy treatment on his road back from colon cancer treatment, Trey Mancini would stand up in front of the television while watching games and take a few dry swings just to remember what it felt like.

Now, each passing day brings him closer and closer to the real thing.

In taking live batting practice off Orioles pitchers Monday on the first day of full-squad workouts in spring training in Sarasota, Florida, Mancini took another step in a comeback that’s inspired his teammates and fans as he returns to the game he loves.

“I made sure to enjoy it and kind of 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” said Mancini, who has been in Sarasota for over three weeks training. “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.”

Baltimore Orioles' Trey Mancini follows through on a single against the Tampa Bay Rays in the fifth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, May 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

How it started: Mancini reported to spring training last February with designs on building on his career year in 2019, when he hit 35 home runs with an .899 OPS at the heart of the Orioles’ lineup.

However, his spring training physical revealed low iron levels. Further tests pointed to a malignant tumor in his colon, which Mancini had removed on March 12 — the same day spring training was shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mancini missed the entire 2020 season and finished a six-month chemotherapy program in late September. By the middle of the fall, Mancini was back swinging a bat and continued his longstanding habit of report early to Sarasota for spring training this month to get himself going as quickly as possible.

Feeling good: Everyone in his life, baseball and otherwise, has been asking how he feels often, he said, and he insists he’s not lying when he says he feels “no different.”

“We went in there and hit off pitchers and I felt better than I expected to,” Mancini said. “I felt good. I’m always ready to get in there and kind of strap it on and get it going. In every standpoint of the game, I really do feel just like I did before.”

Manager Brandon Hyde said there will be no restrictions on Mancini this spring.

“It feels fantastic” Hyde said. “It’s somebody that is just such a class act and so professional. I know everybody missed him around here big-time this year so to have him on the field is uplifting for everybody. Everybody knows what he meant through and how hard he has worked to come back. He looks strong and is swinging the bat great and watching him do defensive drills today. He’s tough not to love, and it’s fun having him out there.”

Meaningful return: Now that the full Orioles camp roster is in Sarasota with their first full-team workout Monday, the greetings will subside. Both Hyde and infielder Rio Ruiz said seeing him back in Sarasota was meaningful.

“Just to see the smile on his face when I got to the ballpark, and to see everybody else’s reaction to him too, I think that was a special moment,” Hyde said.

Said Ruiz: “I can’t remember a bigger hug that I gave somebody than seeing him for the first time the other day. You commend everything that he’s done. You can’t even imagine what he’s been through. But 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. He’s definitely a presence that we’ve missed throughout the clubhouse.”

It was that same Sarasota clubhouse where nearly a year ago, Mancini told his teammates of his pending surgery and left on a Saturday morning before the rest of the team worked out and departed for a game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

He hadn’t seen some of them since making that emotional disclosure.

“To kind of come full circle and get back down here to Sarasota and see everybody in a place that, when I left it, it was really tough and a really hard time,” Mancini said. “It’s been great to see the guys again and just be back in the locker room. That is what I missed last year, this group here, and not being part of the team and being away from everybody. I’m really cherishing being back with everyone.”

Primary first baseman: Mancini will be the team’s primary first baseman this year, and said he trained for two hours a day once he was cleared for such activities to ensure he was ready for the demands of a full season on his body.

But whatever he’s able to do in spring training will just be a precursor to when the games matter come April 1 in Boston. That, Mancini said, will be when he feels his comeback is complete.

“I’m very proud of where I am right now and I’m extremely happy to be here, but I think being in that major league game, one of 162, that’s kind of what I always saw as making the comeback,” he said.