Tomase: Sox make Mancini’s return from cancer extra memorable originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The slugger looked like Baltimore’s franchise player in 2019 when he slammed a career-high 35 homers, but his world came crashing down last spring when he was diagnosed at age 27 with Stage 3 colon cancer, which cost him the entire 2020 season and left him fighting for his life.
He survived surgery and six grueling months of chemotherapy before returning to the field on Opening Day vs. the Red Sox, who put aside their division rivalry to acknowledge Mancini’s return.
Catcher Christian Vazquez embraced Mancini before the latter’s first at-bat, shortstop Xander Bogaerts hugged him at first base, and Rafael Devers also gave him a pat. The gestures of kindness and support moved Mancini after Baltimore’s 3-0 victory.
“It was really classy and really meant a lot to me,” Mancini told reporters, including Joe Trezza of MLB.com. “We all play against each other 19 times a year in this division, but we all have a very high respect for each other and you know we wish the best for everybody playing the game. I played against these guys for years and years and you get to know them . . . We all have a very high respect for each other.”
Mancini also noted the support of Fenway’s fans. With only 4,452 allowed in the park because of COVID protocols, it was easy to hear individual words of encouragement. Mancini noted that one fan told him his sister is battling colon cancer.
“He said it meant a lot for me to be back playing,” Mancini said. “Interactions like that are so cool. Everybody at Fenway was so cool today.”
Though Mancini grounded into double plays — one sharply — in his first two at-bats, he finished the day 1 for 3 with a walk and a run.
It was a game he won’t soon forget, thanks in part to the actions and support of the Red Sox.
“This was the most special Opening Day, even more so than my MLB debut,” Mancini said. “When I found out about the cancer, I thought I’d never play baseball again. I made sure to soak it all in today no matter what happened, and really appreciate doing this for a living. I am never going to take that for granted.
“The fact I’m a year removed from the diagnosis and went through six months of chemotherapy, a lot of things ran through my mind today: days I couldn’t get out of bed, days I was hunched over the toilet sick. It was all worth it to be back here and out there with the guys. It’s something that I can’t describe.”