MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Gardy well supported as he faces cancer fight

D-backs' new bench coach to undergo prostatectomy in April

Gardy well supported as he faces cancer fight

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- New D-backs bench coach Ron Gardenhire has prostate cancer. The news broke on Tuesday, his first day with the club. Let that sink in for a second.

The ballclub and the veteran baseball man made the announcement simultaneously, and it reverberated around the Salt River Fields training facility just after pitchers and catchers concluded their opening day of spring workouts.

It wasn't an auspicious start for the first official day of Gardenhire's partnership with new general manager Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo, but sometimes life has a way of intruding on the fun and games.

"This is just the first of the many tests that this team will face along the way this year," said Lovullo, who is beginning his first year as a big league manager. "We just happened to get the biggest one out of the way today. And we're behind him 100 percent."

Although the revelation that anyone has cancer is never good news, the former Major League infielder and Twins manager seems to be in fine stead.

The 59-year-old Gardenhire was diagnosed following a physical last month at home in Minnesota. Doctors became concerned when the level of PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) in his blood had quadrupled, from a reading of 1 to 4, in a year. Four and above is an indicator of a problem. A quick jump usually indicates that cancer is present in the prostate. A biopsy and an MRI confirmed it.

Most positively, the disease has been detected early, which means that Gardenhire's prospects of a cancer-free recovery are excellent.

"It's a shocker when you hear that word," the often-glib Gardenhire said. "There's a lot of people fighting it, and I'm going to join in that fight myself. Obviously, the great thing about baseball is that we get physicals every year, and we get blood tests done every year. The best thing about it for me is that I know it wasn't there last January.

"They believe they caught it early. Now it's just a matter of them taking it out. As I told the players and everybody, I'm trying to lose weight. I'm going to lose a five-pound prostate, and that's good. So we'll get it out of me, go about our business and do some baseball."

Gardenhire plans to undergo a prostatectomy sometime in April and has already been told by the doctors that he likely will not need followup chemotherapy or radiation treatment. He'll be gone indefinitely, but when he returns, it will be to a pretty extensive support system.

D-backs managing general partner Ken Kendrick and president Derrick Hall are both long-term prostate cancer survivors. In Major League Baseball, Joe Torre, Dusty Baker and Davey Lopes are among the legion of men who have also survived the disease.

"The entire organization stands behind Ron," Hall said. "He certainly knows that there are resources throughout the franchise he can turn to, and of course, we will do everything we can to assist him."

Gardenhire, who compiled a .237 batting average in five years playing for the Mets and a .507 winning percentage in 13 seasons managing the Twins, said Hall has already spoken to him, and he said that he intends to talk to Torre and Baker.

Torre, now MLB's chief baseball officer, was diagnosed with the disease when he was managing the Yankees in 1999. Baker was about to embark on the 2002 season managing the Giants. Neither has had a recurrence. The American Cancer Society estimates that 26,730 men will die of prostate cancer this year, but 99 percent of all those diagnosed will live more than five years.

"Derrick reached out to me last night, and I had a nice talk with him," Gardenhire said. "As I said with everybody here, they've been so nice and ready to step up. 'Whatever you need, even if it's just conversation.' That's what's been wonderful and that's what's been expected, and that's what always happens in baseball. We're a family, and we take care of each other."

Lovullo, ironically, just went through a similar situation with his friend John Farrell, the Red Sox's manager, who missed the final six weeks of the 2015 season undergoing chemotherapy to address a form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Lovullo replaced Farrell on the bench for the remainder of that season. And although the Red Sox finished last in the American League East, their 17-10 September set the tone for their worst-to-first 2016 season.

Farrell recovered in time to retake the reins of the team in time for Spring Training of 2016. Lovullo opted to remain in Boston that offseason until he knew his friend had fully recovered.

Lovullo was the bench coach under Farrell for six seasons, the first two in Toronto. In 2011, they helped the Red Sox to their third World Series title in 10 seasons after a drought of 86 seasons.

Lovullo knows better than anybody that when a member of the group is stricken, the group tightens around that person. That's the way it was with Farrell in Boston, and that's the way it's going to be with Gardy in Arizona.

"I really haven't gone there and thought about that," Lovullo said when asked if he has linked the events of the past two years. "This is mostly about Ron and his situation right now and his fight personally. It does hit home for me a little bit because of what I went through with John. But right now we are fighting this fight with Ron."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.