Chad Bettis pitched in a Major League game on Monday for the Colorado Rockies. It was his first professional start since undergoing chemotherapy during the spring after it was discovered the testicular cancer he had surgically addressed had spread.
Bettis, 28, scattered six hits over seven innings and, matched by the Atlanta Braves’ Julio Teheran, settled for a no-decision in an eventual shutout of Atlanta that helped the Rockies keep pace with the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL Wild Card race.
The box score is just bookkeeping and formalities. For scoreboard purposes, the Rockies Twitter team summed it up rather nicely:
THE ONLY SCORE THAT MATTERS TONIGHT
Chad Bettis: ☝️
Cancer: 0 pic.twitter.com/Y4wV3JDAi9
— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) August 15, 2017
Baseball has always danced in circles with mortality. It’s a shared space—as with anything else and death—that has a morbid rhythm with arrhythmic ends that are notable for their untimeliness. No one lives forever, many live less than that, and in baseball, the miniscule sum of people who become professional athletes—and the fans who follow them closely—are acutely aware of the inevitable. It’s part of the lore we binge on in this sport.
Cancer is a disease whose whole modus operandi is the belief in its untimeliness. No one, not even the people whose odds are skewed towards developing cancer of some kind, receives the news with the understanding that its timing is appropriate. No matter who suffers and no matter when, there is a sense of abbreviation that instantly invades the mind: that there should be more time before someone has to fight such a thing, if they have to fight it at all.
A professional athlete, presumably in great shape and without poor habits, is not someone you’d think susceptible to cancer. The truth is, cancer doesn’t truly have a standard of operations, no matter what we’d like to ascribe it. Both Bettis and Jameson Taillon of the Pittsburgh Pirates have dealt with a cancer diagnosis this year, and neither is out of their 20s. That’s terrifying as a relative consideration as much as it is regrettable-in-sympathy. Cancer doesn’t play by our expectancies, just like the inevitability it often precedes.
Cancer is an equalizer in the least flattering way. For the massive majority of us, being a professional athlete is alien. We don’t know the physicality, the talent, the privileges, the lifestyle. We never will. This extends to other professions, other places that might as well be other worlds. To other races and genders and beliefs, into generations and into times greatly predating us, out to times that have yet to exist. Cancer, unfortunately, bridges those gaps. It’s so easily admonished because its hate is so personally known by so many. It creates instantly recognizable parallels to the people it harms and, as Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee pointed out in his hauntingly fascinating work, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, the disease, in its brutal fight for survival, parallels our collective species, too.
Bettis is a survivor of an oppressive malady that may have the largest universe of similarly oppressed persons in our otherwise divided kind. That’s not so much a criticism of today’s world—it has plenty of help seeing its own shortcomings already—as it is a point to establish borrowed victory. Being affected in some way by cancer is the “death and taxes” of relative human biological experiences. I, like pretty much everyone this work can and will reach, know someone personally who sat through an initial diagnosis, through the adjustments of plans and future dreams, through the excruciating combat that cancer brings along with. I, like a lot of us, know people who have lost the fight.
So, the winners feel good. No one at my level of biological understanding can correctly predict what lies ahead for Chad Bettis or Jameson Taillon or the millions around the world fighting an untimely atrocity in the tiny parts that coalesce to make us. But when we see a winner gain another day of life and live very many “other days” fantastically, we should all count it as a “W” in our win/loss columns. Cancer is vicarious until it’s not, and it only has to beat you once. Where it loses, even if we didn’t personally do the heavy lifting, is cause for celebration by everyone.
To end this, I thought of including a sports-writing pun involving Bettis’s no-decision in the Atlanta start, and how he got the only win that mattered. I’m almost certain that’s already been written somewhere, and instead, in the interest of universal celebration, I’ll finish with something I wrote a few years back about another athlete triumphing over cancer. I wrote this in the aftermath of my aunt losing her fight with the disease:
“Congratulations to the many other people who have fought and beaten cancer. For those still fighting, don’t lose hope. Battle and take back your life like it’s the only one you’ve got. So, on the other side of your win, you can carry on knowing this disease doesn’t define you or your days. It was just a blip. Bad news, not terrifying news.”Next post: Rooting for Records in 2017: NL
Previous post: Trailing 30 (August 14, 2017)