MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Teammates have faith in Taillon's resilience

Teammates have faith in Taillon's resilience

Some of the people who know Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon best believe they can predict precisely how he will handle this latest challenge -- surgery to address a suspicion of testicular cancer.

Taillon's friends and teammates see it playing out this way: The 25-year-old will collect as much information as he can and then proceed thoughtfully and methodically. He will take things one step at a time, focused simply on that one step and that alone. His determination will be unshakeable.

Taillon has surgery for testicular cancer

"Wouldn't the world be so much a better place to be if people would have this kind of outlook across the board?" Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Monday afternoon.

Taillon said as much himself Monday night in a Tweet that seemed to indicate he was steeled for the road ahead.

"Today I lost a piece of 'my manhood,'" he wrote. "But, today I'm feeling more like a man than I ever had. My journey hasn't been the smoothest. But it's my journey, and I wouldn't change it for anything."

Hurdle was part of a small group of people who spoke to Taillon on Saturday after the Bucs learned cancer was a possibility.

"Prayerful support, first and foremost," Hurdle said. "We had a meaningful discussion as well. This is an amazing young man, a very strong young man, a very courageous young man and a very matter-of-fact young man.

"He looks at challenges as opportunities disguised as challenges. Very respectful of what he's walking into, however very upbeat and positive that he'll get through it."

That was the message from the Pirates on Monday as Taillon's teammates attempted to get their mind around the news. Baseball teams are like families, with a group of men gathering in February and spending the next nine months or so sharing moments both joyous and difficult as well as, occasionally, frightening times and personal suffering.

With Taillon, the Bucs have reached out in all sorts of ways, making sure he understands he has their prayers and support and that they will be there for him whenever he needs them.

"Just talking with him every day, it sounds like he's got a pretty level head," teammate Gerrit Cole said. "He's tough as nails so he's always going to try to look for the positive in things. He's always going to try to look for the next step forward.

"He leaves the past where it lies, and that's a really good mentality to have, I think, for these kinds of situations. This can be a really deadly disease, and it takes a really strong person to beat it, and that's definitely who he is."

Taillon has already had some challenges in his brief career. He missed the 2014 and '15 seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery and then hernia surgery just as he was poised to return.

Taillon bristles when people ask him about "two lost seasons." His reaction to that adversity surely offers a preview of how he will approach this. Taillon said nothing was lost during those two seasons, that he grew both emotionally and physically and was as prepared as he could have been when he made his major league debut last June 8.

"I was in a dark place in 2015," Taillon said this spring. "You wonder, 'Why me? What am I doing to deserve this?'"

And?

"I felt sorry for myself for maybe a couple of hours," Taillon said. "I got over it and went back to the rehab process. I had an opportunity to go back to the drawing board."

Taillon focused on nutrition, conditioning, scouting reports, pitch repertoire and everything else he could think of. Maybe that's why he pretty much resembled a finished product when he finally did arrive.

In terms of stuff, there's few better. At 6-foot-5, Taillon's control is precise, his stuff often overpowering -- a 95-mph fastball mixed with one of the best curveballs on the planet. In 24 Major League starts, including six this season, he has a 3.31 ERA and is averaging almost one strikeout per inning.

Beyond the things that can be weighed and measured are traits people almost always bring up before discussing Taillon's talent. He graduated from The Woodlands High School in the Houston suburbs with a 3.85 GPA and was admitted to Rice University before signing with Pittsburgh.

Taillon was known as a conscientious teammate and a raging competitor. High school teammates still remember the playoff game he pitched -- and won -- despite an oozing blister on one of his fingers. Taillon's stuff was diminished, his will to win relentless.

"You meet a young man like that, you feel fortunate," said Ron Eastman, Taillon's high school coach.

Taillon's parents joke that he's the underachiever of the family. One of Jameson's brothers, Jordan, a physician in Florida, was at Citi Field last summer to see his brother's second start. Another brother, Justin, has a Ph.D. in environmental studies from Texas A&M. His sister, Jasmine, has a law degree from the University of Houston.

Jameson was the second overall pick of the 2010 Draft, taken by the Pirates between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

"Great stuff. Great body. Great family," said D-backs scout Rusty Pendergrass. "This is the kind of kid you pull for."

That's the way Taillon is remembered in a high school program that has produced a string of Major Leaguers, including D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.

"His character, his makeup, are off the charts," Eastman said. "He's just a great young man and from a great family. If there's anybody I know able to get through this, it's him. Hopefully, it's a good prognosis."

Bucs third baseman David Freese said Taillon's maturity and workmanlike approach were the things he noticed. To be blessed with both talent and a relentless work ethic is one way the great ones separate themselves.

Now comes another kind of challenge.

"He's very mindful of this being his journey," Hurdle said. "He decided long ago to own everything that happens. When you will take ownership of every decision you make, of every act, circumstance that happens to you and work through it in a positive fashion, there's no telling what can happen.

"It's not easy. Definitely not easy, more often than not, it's a harder road, however, it plays out better for everyone else you come in contact with as well as yourself."

Pirates infielder Josh Harrison spoke for an entire organization when he said: "We're going to pray him up, love on him and just wait for his recovery. First thing is him being healthy. We're not worried about a timetable for him being able to play. I'm more worried about him as a person, as a son, and a friend. Just want his well being to be where it needs to be."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.