MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Gardy rejoins D-backs after surgery

Arizona bench coach happy for health, eager for baseball after battling prostate cancer

Gardy rejoins D-backs after surgery

PHOENIX -- Ron Gardenhire joined the D-backs in the dugout Monday night as bench coach for the first time, and it was a combination of Opening Day and Christmas Day for the veteran baseball man.

Not only was the union long-awaited, it came just about a month after Gardenhire underwent surgery to remove a cancerous prostate and stitch up a hernia back home in Minnesota.

Back in the D-backs' dugout prior to Tuesday night's game against the Mets, Gardenhire sounded happy, and he said he was healthy and glad to put the first four months of 2017 behind him.

"It was kind of like Opening Day for me, a little bit nerve-wracking," Gardenhire told MLB.com about working Arizona's 7-3 win alongside manager Torey Lovullo. "But it was good. It was exciting. I had to figure out what the skipper wants, because that's the first time I've been out there since Spring Training, and that's not the same thing."

It's Lovullo's first year as a Major League manager after he spent six as John Farrell's bench coach in Toronto and Boston. Gardenhire managed the Twins for 13 seasons from 2002-14, and the idea was to give Lovullo some real experience with Gardenhire at his side. Gardy had a .507 winning percentage (1,068-1,039) with Minnesota, and six first-place finishes in the American League Central.

But sometimes those are the best-laid plans of mice and men.

During his January physical, Gardenhire was diagnosed with prostate cancer, casting a real shadow over his first days in the D-backs' organization. Jerry Narron, who was tabbed to manage Arizona's Triple-A Reno club, opened the season as the D-backs' interim bench coach with Gardenhire in a utility role as he prepared for his April 18 surgery.

Beginning Monday night, it was Gardenhire back on the bench with Narron as utility. Whether Narron will remain with the team or will return to Reno will be decided in the next few weeks, Lovullo said.

There are no physical restrictions on Gardenhire, who was up and walking only hours after the surgery. He also doesn't need chemo or radiation therapy, just a blood test to make sure his PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) is at an acceptable level. That figure quadrupled from a reading of 1 to 4 in a year, leading doctors to suspect prostate cancer. A biopsy confirmed that diagnosis.

"In my conversations with Gardy leading up to this, I asked him to tell me when he was ready," Lovullo said. "He said he wanted to step back in the dugout. So when I talked to him about a week ago, he said he was coming in, healthy and strong and ready for the challenge. And assured me that the doctors had cleared him.

"Sometimes in baseball we do things like stretch the truth about our health. In this case, I wanted to make darn sure he was in good shape. He said he was, and that he wanted to be in the dugout. And he determined [Monday] was the right time."

It may have been just a small coincidence that this week's opponent is the Mets. Gardenhire was a well-liked middle infielder who batted .232 in parts of five seasons from 1981-85 for the Metropolitans.

One of his teammates was first baseman Keith Hernandez, now a television baseball analyst for SNY, the regional sports network owned by the Mets.

Hernandez sent his best wishes to Gardy on Tuesday night, saying, "I'm planning to touch base with him and so happy to see him back out there."

Gardenhire found plenty of support during his ordeal, in the D-backs' organization and around Major League Baseball. D-backs managing general partner Ken Kendrick and president Derrick Hall are both long-term prostate cancer survivors. Around MLB, Joe Torre, Dusty Baker and Davey Lopes are among the legion of men who have also survived the disease.

But all the advice in the world doesn't help anyone cope with the anxiety of preparing to fight cancer.

"You know, that's a big word, when you hear that cancer word. So many people have gone through the fight," Gardenhire said. "Then you start preparing to deal with it just like anything else. You know what? Lots of people have been through it and have had it. I'm just joining the legion and fighting against cancer."

Not to worry, Gardy. Torre, the Hall of Fame manager and MLB's chief baseball officer, has been cancer-free since 1999 when he was in the midst of a run of four World Series victories in five years managing the Yankees. Baker, now leading the Nationals to the best record in the National League, has been cancer-free since 2002, when he managed the Giants into the World Series.

Gardenhire has that same mindset.

"It's over, let's go," he said. "Time to start dealing with baseball. It's as good as it can be."

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.