Orioles' Mancini to use Home Run Derby to prove 'there’s life after a cancer diagnosis’

JON MEOLI
The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
Baltimore Orioles Trey Mancini, left, fist bumps third base coach Tony Mansolino, right, after hitting a first inning home run against Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Hyun Jin Ryu during a baseball game, Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

Baltimore Orioles slugger Trey Mancini’s reason for accepting an invitation to next month’s Home Run Derby is a simple and unassailable one.

After missing all of the 2020 season because of surgery to remove a malignant tumor from his colon and the ensuing chemotherapy treatment, he wants his return to play this year to show others fighting cancer that there’s hope on the other side.

“The biggest reason why I wanted to do it was to show people that there’s life after a cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy,” Mancini said Tuesday, shortly after announcing on social media his entrance to the All-Star event July 12 at Colorado’s Coors Field. “I was in a hospital last year, 12 times, for three or four hours at a time getting infused with chemo drugs. I want those people who are going through that right now to know that you can get through it and still live a normal life and try and compete after that. So more importantly, it’s kind of a duty that I feel to them as well.”

In discussing his entrance into the competition, which will also feature defending champion Pete Alonso of the New York Mets, Los Angeles Angels two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani and Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, Mancini said it was a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity that he’d regret passing on for a few days off.

“Ten years from now, I don’t want to look back and wish that I did the Home Run Derby but instead opted for a couple days of rest,” he said. “I feel good physically. I don’t feel like I need the full four days, so it’s just something that I thought, I’d look back one day and wish that I would have done it if I didn’t do it. So, it was pretty easy.”

Giving his story a national stage: Mancini’s entrance in the derby will give a national stage to a story he’s trying to share as much as possible. Already this year, his return to play in spring training and later in the regular season has garnered national attention. He’s supplemented that with appearances on morning talk shows and an in-person hit on “SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt” on a night off.

“I want to use my platform for good, so any time I have a request or anybody wants me to talk about what I went through, and quite frankly, still do go through, I want to help others,” Mancini said. “But I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t get tiring at times if you’re playing major league baseball every day against the best players in the world. It can be a lot to navigate, but I try my best every day to balance it all.”

Trying to figure it out: Early in the season, that seemed to wear on him some as he struggled with the idea he wasn’t going to be the same player he was in 2019 immediately. He turned it around in May, but has fallen off some this month. Mancini said his primary focus has been figuring it out, so much so that he hasn’t given much thought to what a special moment the Home Run Derby could create for him.

“It’s no secret I haven’t been feeling great lately at the plate so I’ve been trying to address that with a few things,” Mancini said. “Normally when I’m not feeling great it’s something mental but there is a little physical hitch right now that I’m working on. I’ve been a lot more concerned with that lately and haven’t really thought about the Derby and I know I will, after our game Sunday before the All-Star break, I’ll definitely shift my focus to that. But right now, I’ve got a job to do for the team, which is figure it out a little bit and go out there and hit like I know how to.”

"Beyond unbelievable:" To that end, Mancini got a day off from manager Brandon Hyde on Tuesday night in Houston. Tuesday marked the Orioles’ 80th game, and Mancini has appeared in 77 of them. He’s batting .258 with a .789 OPS and 14 home runs after a two-hit game in Monday night’s 9-7 win over the Astros.

“What he’s done so far this year has been beyond unbelievable,” Hyde said. “Missing a full year, in chemotherapy this time last year, playing almost every single game up until this point. We’re now in late-June, almost halfway through, and it’s just to give him an extra day of rest.”

No special preparation: It doesn’t seem as if there will be much specialized preparation for the derby for Mancini, who said he doesn’t plan to seek out much advice or otherwise waiver from his typical batting practice approach. Teammates are struck by the ease with which Mancini can drive the ball out to right-center field.

And he’ll use his most recent Home Run Derby experience from his days at Notre Dame to guide him as well. Mancini said Chuck Ristano, the Notre Dame pitching coach, was throwing when Mancini won the 2012 Big East Home Run Derby, and they joked that if Mancini ever got to participate in the Major League Baseball version, Ristano would be manning the bucket for him.

“I’m keeping that promise, and he’s going to be the one throwing to me,” Mancini said.