A player and coach’s journey from chemotherapy to HR Derby

Jul 9, 2021, 11:13 PM | Updated: Jul 10, 2021, 12:02 pm

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Texas Rangers All-Star slugger Joey Gallo has never forgotten that day he spent during spring training five years ago with Tony Beasley — a nearly four-hour chemotherapy session to treat the coach’s cancer.

When Gallo steps into the box for the Home Run Derby in Denver on Monday night, Beasley will be throwing to him — as the third base coach has in batting practice before Rangers games throughout the 27-year-old slugger’s big league career.

“What he’s been through and what he’s overcame, the story should be more about him, honestly, than me,” said Gallo, now in his fifth full season. “And I want to give him some recognition.”

Beasley has been cancer free since December 2016, after the nearly yearlong bout with rectal cancer that included multiple rounds of extensive chemotherapy during spring training and later during that season. Between treatments that year, the deeply faithful Beasley remained upbeat and was around the team as much as he could.

While Beasley had planned to spend next week’s break at home in Virginia, the former minor league All-Star infielder who never played in the majors couldn’t turn down Gallo.

“He was relieved, but it made me feel good that I felt like I was his only choice,” Beasley said. “And he went back to 2016 when we spent time together in chemotherapy and that type of stuff, he felt like that would be a good opportunity to shed light on cancer and the possibility of inspiring people.

“That was still fresh on his mind, that wasn’t kind of where I was thinking,” the coach said. “But he was really serious about that avenue, and so that meant a lot to me to know that that’s where his heart was at.”

Gallo had played only 36 major league games the previous season, striking out in more than half of his at-bats between a handful of big home runs in his big league debut, and would spend most of 2016 at Triple-A.

But he was in camp that spring and accepted an invitation to accompany Beasley to a chemotherapy session. The Rangers hoped that trip would provide the young slugger some perspective as he tried to cope with on-field struggles and growing expectations.

And it certainly did.

Gallo, now a second-time All-Star and a Gold Glove-winning right fielder, said this week that his perspective on life changed by watching how Beasley handled that day, and the entire bout with cancer.

Beasley said he has seen tremendous growth in Gallo, from that 21-year-old kid in 2015 who didn’t believe how good he really was.

“I’ve seen him gradually embrace his talent on the baseball field and grow as an individual, as a man,” Beasley said. “I’ve seen him really mature on the baseball field. … I’ve seen him go from boy to man over the course of 6 1/2 years.”

Gallo was also an All-Star in 2019, and there was talk about him being in the Home Run Derby then, but he was coming off an oblique strain and didn’t want to risk hurting himself again. But he did go deep on the only pitch he saw in the game.

Before going homerless Friday night, when he did have two more walks to increase his MLB-leading total to 69, Gallo had been the first Rangers player ever with 10 homers in a 10-game stretch. He had 23 overall.

Beasley is in his seventh season as the Rangers’ third base coach. He was the first assistant hired by previous manager Jeff Bannister and was retained when Chris Woodward, fresh off two World Series appearances as third base coach with the Los Angeles Dodgers, became the Texas manager after the 2018 season.

“This guy is a special human being, the way he just communicates with people, not just players, but just the positive light that he brings every day,” Woodward said. “That ability to relate goes a long way, especially with players. … It’s hard to develop trust with everybody, and this guy does it on a daily basis. And it’s genuine, it’s real.”

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