Mancini: Ovation 'meant the world to me'

Emotional moment as slugger tips cap to crowd in 1st AB after battle with cancer

February 28th, 2021

SARASOTA, Fla. -- During his year away from the field recovering from colon cancer, Orioles slugger dearly missed baseball. It appears the feeling was mutual.

That much was evident by the warm welcome Mancini received before and during his successful spring debut Sunday, when the O’s opened their Grapefruit League schedule with a 6-4 loss to the Pirates. Mancini was given a partial ovation after warmups and then a standing ovation from both dugouts and the 25-percent capacity crowd at Ed Smith Stadium prior to his first at-bat, pausing to acknowledge the applause with a tip of the cap.

He then singled to center off Chad Kuhl in his first competitive at-bat since last March.

“It was amazing,” Mancini said. “I almost teared up a little bit, I’m not going to lie … it meant the world to me. It was a really, really cool moment and one of my favorite moments of my baseball career.”

Speaking after the game, Mancini called it “a huge day for me personally, and another milestone that I can check off” in his comeback attempt. It’s been a year-long journey that, Mancini admitted, he spent most of Sunday replaying in his mind. The O’s top hitter and most popular player, Mancini was coming off a career-year when he was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in early March 2020, two weeks shy of his 28th birthday. He left the team March 3, then underwent surgery to remove a malignant tumor March 13, the day baseball shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mancini completed six months of chemotherapy treatment in September, returned to baseball activity in October and remains cancer free. He has long targeted Opening Day 2021 for his official return to game action.

“I felt better at the plate than I expected,” Mancini said. “For the most part, I feel like I had a good mindset up there and picked up where I left off. There is still some work to do in some places, but I'm really happy with how today went overall.”

That the results weren’t perfect was largely secondary. Starting at first base, Mancini committed a throwing error on his first defensive chance when his throw to second hit runner Bryan Reynolds. Mancini had fielded a Gregory Polanco grounder with the bases loaded and was attempting to get the force at second.

Mancini also stole second base after his single in the bottom of the first but was forced back due to batter’s interference. He struck out against Pirates lefty Sam Howard in the third and was replaced at first base by Ryan Ripken in the top of the fourth.

That Mancini had made it back to the field in the first place resonated the most.

“It was a goosebumps moment,” O's manager Brandon Hyde said of the ovation. “It was really cool. Hats off to all the fans who were here, recognizing and acknowledging Trey, as well as [Pirates manager] Derek Shelton and the boys over there.”

Said O’s starter Thomas Eshelman: “It’s something that is super special to happen to a great human being.”

What’s next? Mancini is expected to be in the starting lineup again Tuesday, when the Orioles return home to play the Yankees after traveling to face the Phillies on Monday. Hyde said he would play Mancini every other day during the early part of spring, alternating him between first base and DH. If all goes well, the goal is for Mancini to be playing every day by mid-March and without restriction once the regular season begins. Sunday marked another step in that direction.

“It’s almost a year to the day when I was last in a game, so it definitely felt like a moment where we came full circle a little bit,” Mancini said. “I thought more about everything that happened today than I have in a long time. I've mostly tried to in a lot of ways just move on and not think too much about last year. But today I ran through all the tough days that we had and really tried to appreciate and cherish today.”