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Bettis has new perspective on game, life

Beating cancer twice has changed Rockies starter's outlook @TracyRingolsby

DENVER -- Chad Bettis used to live for baseball. It was the focus of his life.

Not anymore. And Bettis is better for it -- as a person and as a pitcher.

DENVER -- Chad Bettis used to live for baseball. It was the focus of his life.

Not anymore. And Bettis is better for it -- as a person and as a pitcher.

There is something about a battle with cancer that changes priorities.

Bettis can attest to that. In the past nine months, he fought the battle not once, but twice. But now the testicular cancer that emerged in November and resurfaced during Spring Training is in remission, and Bettis is back to work as a starting pitcher for the Colorado Rockies. He's fresh for the stretch run in the Rockies' bid to claim a postseason spot for the fourth time in franchise history.

"Going through the process of getting built back up, that's what I pitched -- that if I can get where I want to be, whether it is in September or late July or, as it turned out, mid-August, I'm going to be a fresh arm," he said.

Video: ATL@COL: Bettis on emotional return from cancer

Not just a fresh arm, but a fresh arm with a knowledge of pitching in the big leagues in general and at Coors Field in particular. A fresh arm who spent parts of two frustrating seasons being primarily a reliever after having the previous regime take his curveball -- his second-best pitch -- away from him. A fresh arm who in the past two years had his curveball back and never flinched at the challenge of Coors Field.

It is not just that Bettis was 12-5 at Coors Field the past two seasons with a 4.68 ERA -- the second lowest of any pitcher with at least four starts there -- but also that Colorado was 19-6 in the games he started. And that is the focus for him on the days he pitches.

Sure, Bettis had a no-decision in his return to the big leagues on Monday against the Braves, but he pitched seven scoreless innings, which allowed the Rockies to rally in the eighth and win, 3-0 -- the team's 20th win in his past 26 starts at Coors Field.

Besides, after what Bettis went through the past nine months, Coors Field is no challenge.

At the age of 27, with Christmas a month away and having learned that your wife is pregnant with your first child, to have doctors break the news that testicular cancer has been discovered makes things like pitching in Coors Field seemed insignificant.

And if that wasn't enough, after showing up for Spring Training feeling good and excited about a new season, Bettis was thrown the another curve -- cancer showed up in his lymph glands, and chemotherapy was ordered. His baseball season was on hold.

"Initially having the surgery and everything, I felt like that was probably the biggest scare," Bettis said. "And then when I found out I was going to have to go through chemo, baseball was so far in the back of my mind. Not that I wasn't still thinking about it and still caring, because it's what I love to do and it's been my lifelong dream to play ball. But it became about living and staying alive, not playing baseball."

The real world became Bettis' world.

"After having to go through what I had the past nine months, it made me take a little bit of a step back and re-evaluate stuff," Bettis said. "Because I felt like I was getting to a point where baseball was starting to define me instead of my family and my values defining me. Baseball being what I loved to do, but not allowing it to define me anymore and essentially eat me alive."

Don't get the wrong idea. Baseball is still a big part of Bettis' life, and if anything, his battle with cancer has only enhanced his competitiveness. It's just that cancer reminded him that what he is as a person is much deeper than what he does on the baseball field.

"It's hard to justify that unless someone has gone through something like this," he said. "They might feel, 'You're not taking your job seriously.' I am. It is just not going to define me. I play baseball for a living. I love what I do. I have as far back as I can remember. And I take it seriously. But my family, my [wife and daughter], I want that to be what defines me."

The competitor was apparent in Bettis' return. He wanted it to be at Coors Field. He feels at home there. And the night turned out perfect.

Bettis laughed about how the night began. Leadoff hitter Ender Inciarte flipped a sinking soft liner into left field that Gerardo Parra came up short on while attempting a diving catch. Parra, however, recovered, and a strong throw from him combined with a strong throw from shortstop Trevor Story and a good play at the plate by catcher Jonathan Lucroy resulted in Inciarte being thrown out in an attempt at an inside-the-park home run.

Video: Must C Caught: Parra, Story nab Inciarte at the plate

"Walking in from the bullpen, I was hit with an overwhelming amount of emotions," Bettis said. "I was trying to keep it together. Then getting ahead in the count to Inciarte, and that first ball in play, squirting right under [Parra's] glove and to the wall. It was the lowest of lows of what you would expect on the first play back to the big leagues. But [Inciarte] gets thrown out at home and it's, 'Oh, my gosh. We're back. Let's keep going.' It's awesome."

It got better. Bettis gave up five more hits, didn't walk a batter and after 90 pitches turned the scoreless game over to the bullpen to finish off what become a victory.

Now Bettis is ready for the next challenge -- the Brewers on Saturday night, again at Coors Field.

No more nerves. It's all about getting the job done.

Bettis is ready for the challenge.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for

Colorado Rockies, Chad Bettis