I typically use this space to provide commentary to the week’s biggest sports story lines.
I am going to mix it up this week. I am going to share a personal story about the most resilient person I know. A story that took another emotional turn on Friday.
Rewind to December 2011. I have just finished the fall semester of my junior year at Pacific Lutheran University and was in full vacation mode at home. Those three weeks were always among my favorite of the year. Nothing but naps, snacks and free beer from dad’s fridge in the garage.
A couple days into the break, I get a text from my best friend, Max. Max and I played baseball against each other in high school (he hit me in the head once) and went on to become teammates, roommates and Call of Duty companions at PLU.
His text: “Dude, I have cancer.”
At first, I thought it was a poor attempt at a joke. And I made sure to tell him that. Unfortunately, there were not smiles on the other end of the phone.
I was then handed the responsibility of calling several of our closest friends and alerting them Max had testicular cancer at the ripe age of 20. There weren’t many dry eyes in our friend circle that night.
Max went on to withdraw from PLU, move out of our house and miss his junior season while undergoing surgery and months of chemotherapy. It was a quiet semester in the basement of the baseball house.
As everyone anticipated, Max battled with a smile on his face and was eventually cancer free. He even made the trip to Tacoma a few times during treatment. His hair was gone. His personality was not.
Fast forward a year to a Saturday afternoon in June 2013. The final day of the Major League Baseball draft.
In the 32nd round, the San Diego Padres called Max’s name. Once again, there weren’t many dry eyes in our friend circle. Tears played a role, sure, but the champagne bottles we popped certainly factored in as well.
Max spent two seasons in the Padres organization, moving up from rookie ball to low-A ball in Eugene, Ore. He didn’t dominate, but he didn’t struggle either. He was climbing the ladder.
Then a reshuffling of the ownership left Max out of job. He didn’t quit when life gave him the mother of all curveballs, cancer. He wasn’t about to fold when he got another one.
He played independent baseball in the Bay Area last summer and was named the league’s Pitcher of the Year. Still, conversations with MLB clubs were few and far between. The dream was fading.
Max went back to the Bay a few weeks ago and was again off to a fast start, nearly throwing a no-hitter in his second game back.
On Friday, he reached out to me, just as he did in December 2011. This time it wasn’t a text, though. It was a call.
“So, we might have to put a hold on the whole Go M’s thing (we’re both Seattle Mariners fans) for a while.”
“Your boy just got signed by the (Chicago) White Sox.”
I managed to keep my eyes dry, but only because I was in the middle of golf headquarters looking at new drivers. I jogged out to the parking lot. Yelling in a golf shop likely would’ve been frowned upon.
Max flew down to Arizona over the weekend and signed his papers, officially become a member of the White Sox organization. He expects to join the team’s Single-A affiliate in North Carolina shortly.
Nothing is guaranteed. Maybe his second professional stint will be a short one. Maybe this was the break he needed.
A few years ago, I was forced to consider what life would possibly be like without Max. Now, I get to think about my best friend getting his second shot at baseball, with his second shot at life.
Nathan can also be reached via email at nshoup@dailysparkstribune. His weekly column, ‘Shoup Shots,’ runs in the hard copy of the Sparks Tribune every Tuesday morning.