Cancer survivor Bettis retires, 'head held high'

June 26th, 2020

DENVER -- Right-hander -- whose seven-season career with the Rockies will be remembered for his bout with testicular cancer and his triumphant return in 2017, but not just that -- announced his retirement from baseball on Thursday.

Bettis, 31, went 31-31 with a 5.12 ERA as a starter and a reliever with the Rockies from 2013-19 and was a tangible presence as the Rockies developed into a postseason team in ’17 and ’18. He signed a Minor League contract with the Yankees during the offseason but rethought his plans during the sport’s shutdown in reaction to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“I started floating the idea and weighing out different scenarios to myself a couple weeks ago,” said Bettis, who said his decision was not the result of any fear associated with the pandemic. “Something was not adding up from what I was trying to accomplish and how my body had been responding. The decision for me was pretty simple. Physically, I took my body to the limit here. And unfortunately, that has been the deciding factor.

“There are things that I still want to do with my whole life in front of me, and being able to be with my family and chasing my daughter around is something I envision wanting to do.”

Bettis will work for DocuNav Solutions, a North Texas-based software company started by his parents more than 22 years ago.

The arc of his baseball career tells an inspiring story beyond the numbers.

A second-round pick out of Texas Tech in 2010, Bettis made the Majors in 2013 but had a 5.64 ERA in 16 games, eight of them starts. In late July 2014, then-manager Walt Weiss was in the middle of informing Bettis that he was being sent to Triple-A, but stopped and asked Bettis which role he preferred. Bettis stated his preference for starting, so he was stuck in Triple-A for the rest of the year, but as it turned out, he was on his way to production.

In 2015 and 2016, for struggling Rockies teams, Bettis went 22-14 with a 4.57 ERA and emerged as a leader.

For example, he boiled big and little aspects of being a starter -- on the mound, off the field, even with the bat -- into a system through which players competed for a small pot of money, but also learned winning ways.

Young pitcher after young pitcher said that Bettis would make sure to become their catch partner, and by watching him, they learned how to make the most of each throw.

“Honestly, I am humbled to have been a part of the ride -- it was an incredible one that I will cherish forever,” Bettis said. “Being able to help out and cut learning curves shorter was all I am about. Learn from the other man’s mistake so you can see how to be better. All I wanted from them was respect, that was my whole mission. I want to be able to earn your respect. Because after you build that bridge, you can help guide in different ways.”

It was during the 2016 offseason when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and he underwent surgery to remove a testicle in December. Though he learned in March 2017 that the cancer had unexpectedly spread, he determinedly underwent chemotherapy and fought the cancer until his treatment was complete in July.

He returned to the mound at Coors Field on Aug. 14 and threw seven scoreless innings against the Braves in a 3-0 Rockies victory. His return earned him the Tony Conigliaro Award, which goes annually to the MLB player who best "overcomes an obstacle and adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination, and courage that were trademarks of Conigliaro."

Bettis said that when he thinks of his career, it goes beyond accomplishments and “into the details, the long talks out in the outfield during BP, strategy talks on the bench about what to expect and how to get someone out, sequence planning with other guys for a lineup. The chess matches [in the clubhouse]. The relationships that I developed with everyone is what I will really remember.”