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Commissioner's Cup a thrill for Cincy teen

Health issues nearly kept Connor Curtin from attending All-Star event in DC
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- Connor Curtin was sitting in his doctor's office in a Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati when he received the bad news.

Curtin was supposed to travel to Washington during All-Star Week to participate with the Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy in the MLB Commissioner's Cup, a tournament for players ages 17 and under from MLB Youth Academies.

WASHINGTON -- Connor Curtin was sitting in his doctor's office in a Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati when he received the bad news.

Curtin was supposed to travel to Washington during All-Star Week to participate with the Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy in the MLB Commissioner's Cup, a tournament for players ages 17 and under from MLB Youth Academies.

On May 31, Curtin said he underwent surgery to remove a benign tumor of his leg bone that was supposed to sideline him for a month. Curtin said the tumor was larger than doctors expected, so his doctor told him he couldn't participate in contact sports for eight weeks, which Curtin expected to keep him out of the Commissioner's Cup.

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"He was crushed," said Curtin's father, Chris. "I mean, literally. Almost in tears."

But those emotions changed at the beginning of July. Connor was packing for the possible trip to Washington, hopeful he'd still go, when he received an email, which said the Reds Youth Academy and MLB would allow him to travel to Washington. Now, Connor is experiencing one of the best weeks of his life, hanging out with teammates, cheering them on during games and partaking in MLB All-Star Week activities.

"My favorite part of the whole trip," Connor said, "was really being able to come at all."

Connor's father discovered a lump near his son's right femur about five years ago while rubbing his leg. About two days later, Connor visited a doctor and was diagnosed with osteochondroma, which means there's an overgrowth of cartilage and bone near the growth plate. It's noncancerous.

The doctor was worried about removing the tumor at the time because it was close to Connor's growth plate, Connor's father said. Instead, Connor said he returned yearly for checkups. After three years, Connor said he only had to come back every two years because of his progress.

Connor applied medical tape and extra padding to his leg so he could play the infield in baseball and suit up as an offensive lineman in football. Connor didn't want his peers to know about his condition, but he said the bump was visible when he wore shorts.

Last fall, the condition worsened. It hurt for a few moments at a time, and sometimes, the 14-year-old couldn't support himself standing, his father said. At a doctor's appointment soon after, Connor's father said the doctor told him Connor's tumor had grown and he needed to remove it. So, Connor underwent surgery. Curtin's father said the doctor described his son's tumor as the size of a racquetball.

Connor, who joined the Cincinnati Youth Academy about two years ago, pitched in his academy's game the night before surgery because he wanted a baseball memory to hold onto.

To keep busy after surgery, Connor took high school classes in June, but that was before he received news he would travel to Washington. Connor said one of his coaches in particular, Jeremy Hamilton, worked hard to make sure he would have a spot.

"He was on cloud nine," Chris Curtin said. "He was so pumped. He just couldn't stop talking about it."

Connor has spent the majority of the games during his trip carrying bags and warming up his teammates. But on Friday, Hamilton gave Connor an at-bat, which ended in a walk. Connor said getting to play "meant the world" to him.

Next year, Connor will revisit his doctor to make sure the surgery worked, but he's happy with his health. So on Monday, Connor will enjoy the T-Mobile MLB Home Run Derby at Nationals Park stress-free, just 2 1/2 weeks away from likely playing baseball and football again.

"There are tons of stories that don't have the ending we have," Connor's father said, "and we're blessed and grateful."

The Philadelphia and Kansas City Youth Academies will play in the MLB Commissioner's Cup championship Monday afternoon at the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. Philadelphia and Kansas City finished as the top National League and American League teams, respectively, during round-robin play.

No. 1 seed Compton defeated No. 4 seed Texas in the Jennie Finch Classic semifinals Sunday to advance to the championship Monday afternoon at the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. Compton will face the No. 3 seed Nationals, who defeated No. 2 seed Jennie Finch's Aces on Sunday.

Sunday's results

Baseball:
Philadelphia Phillies 10, Washington Nationals 2
NOLA 3, Compton 2

Softball:
Texas Rangers 7, Compton 8
Nationals 6, Jennie's Aces 2

Kyle Melnick is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington.