Mancini cancer-free, plans to be ready for ST

November 11th, 2020

At various points over the past eight months, Trey Mancini admits that he occasionally let his mind wander. Existentialism trickled in on the bad days, and there were plenty of bad days. Why did this happen to me? What was the cause? Am I just unlucky?

Those thoughts, however, quickly faded. Despite everything. Despite the pandemic, despite the chemotherapy. Despite the minuscule odds that Mancini, one of the American League’s top sluggers who was otherwise healthy, would spend the 28th year of his life battling Stage 3 colon cancer. On these days, he resolved only to look forward.

“Now, health-wise, I feel great. I feel totally like myself,” Mancini said Wednesday on a Zoom call with reporters. “I just wanted to get through it and attack it and get back to being me.”

Fast forward to the present day, and that is exactly what happened. Roughly two months since completing the last of 12 chemotherapy treatments, Mancini said he remains free of the disease. He is back in his offseason home of Nashville, Tenn., working out five times per week, and he has resumed light baseball activity, including hitting.

Mancini is ready to put cancer behind him and for his baseball life to resume.

“There is no reason for me to believe if Spring Training started tomorrow, that I wouldn’t be ready to go. Because I would,” Mancini said. “When I get there in February, I really think everyone will look at me and not think anything happened, if they didn’t know what happened. All my attention is turned back toward baseball.”

The ultimate goal, Mancini said, is to be ready to return to the field for Opening Day 2021. To achieve it would be to wrap a happy bow on a year during which Mancini’s “perspective changed a whole lot.” A year in which he learned to prioritize not only his health, but also the health of others. In June, Mancini partnered with the Colorectal Cancer Alliance with an eye toward building awareness of early onset colon cancer. This week, the Orioles announced they raised more than $80,000 for the CCA through sales of their #F16HT T-shirts, designed to support Mancini’s recovery.

“It’s just another testament to everybody in Baltimore, and their support and rallying around me through this really tough time,” Mancini said. “It just means the world to me.”

Colorectal cancer is the No. 1 killer of American men under the age of 50, according to the CCA. One in 10 patients are diagnosed before age 50.

“He’s become a spokesperson for young people,” said CCA CEO Michael Sapienza. “On average, patients diagnosed under the age of 50 go to two or three doctors before they are diagnosed. Then they get diagnosed at a later stage. That’s what is scary.”

Mancini caught his cancer relatively early, thanks to a routine Spring Training physical. He has repeatedly questioned whether that would’ve happened had he not been a Major League Baseball player. As it was, Mancini had a malignant tumor surgically removed from his colon on March 13, the day baseball shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He began bimonthly chemotherapy treatments in April, watching from afar while baseball, for a long time, wasn’t played without him.

The subsequent weeks and months were often grueling. Mancini squeezed DIY cardio workouts in when his body allowed. He did puppy squats. He watched "The Wire," as well as “basically every” Orioles game once the season started. Baltimore's best hitter in 2019 and still the face of the franchise despite missing an entire season, Mancini is as eager as anyone to rejoin an improving O’s team optimistic about the potential of their emerging young core.

Being a cancer survivor won’t necessarily affect his playing status for 2021 even if COVID-19 is still a factor, Mancini said. Medically, he would be considered immunocompromised. But he noted fellow cancer survivors Carlos Carrasco, Anthony Rizzo and Jon Lester, all of whom played in 2020. Mancini added that he is required to undergo oncology screenings every three months for the next year, and every six months after that. He’s been trained to be watchful of potential chemotherapy side affects, none of which he’s experienced to this point.

“It’s something you still want to be careful with,” Mancini said. “I am doing everything I can physically to be ready to play and have a long career.”

No matter what else the future holds, Mancini said his advocacy work will continue. He and the CCA are brainstorming future fundraising events, as well as programs to help cover screening costs for people in harder-to-reach and at-risk communities. Sapienza estimates Mancini’s story has already reached millions.