View Full Version : Passan: Cancer survivor Marrero ready to help lead Royals

04-02-2005, 02:58 AM

Marrero won a battle, and now he's stronger

By JEFF PASSAN The Kansas City Star

SURPRISE, Ariz. — He doesn't like to talk about the cancer. This is not a surprise. Eli Marrero doesn't like to talk about much.

Most of the time, when he dons a Royals uniform, he hides by his locker. Eight years in the major leagues haven't pumped into him the urge to speak. A little small talk here and there works. Anything more and he scoffs. No time for that nonsense. He's too busy playing ball.

Then he looks back to 1998. He was 24, a bona fide prospect, the Cardinals' catcher of the future. On Feb. 28, he slapped two hits in St. Louis' first exhibition. On March 1, he flew back to St. Louis after doctors discovered a lump in his neck during a routine physical. Five days later, they removed a malignant tumor growing on his thyroid and made him swallow radioactive iodine to kill the rest of the hormone-producing gland.

And four days after that, he returned to the Cardinals' camp, his future in doubt and his resolve battered: He couldn't swing a bat because doctors feared he would rip his stitches in his neck.

And here he is. Seven years with St. Louis and another with Atlanta paved the cancer-free Marrero's way to Kansas City, where he'll play all three outfield positions and first base.

“I'm stronger,” he said. “Having that kind of disease at any age, battling through, learning what you're made of. I never said, ‘Why me?' Nothing like that. I said, ‘I've got God.' ”

Strength kept Marrero pushing. Only 38 days after his surgery, Marrero started at catcher. On the first pitch from Kirk Rueter, Marrero belted a triple — and, for good measure, slid headfirst into third base. In the ninth inning, Marrero bookended one of his most memorable games with a home run off Julian Tavarez.

He looks back at that season now and marvels. No longer is he the prospect; he's the veteran. No longer is he a catcher; he's a utilityman. No longer is he a victim; he's a survivor.

“When somebody says life changes, that it wakes you up — that's true,” Marrero said. “You see things a little brighter. There are still days when you're going to be (ticked) off. Everybody has those. I've learned I don't like being around negative people.”

In baseball, Marrero tries to surround himself with positivity. He made the playoffs four of the last five seasons, advancing to the National League Championship Series with the Cardinals in 2002. While he has struggled in the postseason — Marrero is four for 38 in 16 games — he brings a wealth of experience to the Royals. Only five other Royals have been to the playoffs.

“He could pass a lot of things along,” Royals manager Tony Peña said, “but that's not Eli. He doesn't talk too much. He's quiet. If you're looking for him, you'll find him. Not the opposite.”

Marrero saves his voice for the golf course. During down time, he and opening-day starter Jose Lima played local courses. After bad shots, Marrero bellowed in frustration.

Away from the links, Lima doesn't hear a peep.

“He can be sitting there, right next to you, and you won't know he's there,” Lima said. “He doesn't say anything. You won't get anything from him if you don't say something to him.”

Of course, the Royals acquired Marrero for his bat, not his mouth. They traded hard-throwing Jorge Vasquez for him this offseason, taking on $2.5 million of his $3 million salary. They got a terror on left-handed pitching: Marrero hit .415 against southpaws last season, and .320 with 10 home runs and 40 RBIs in 250 at-bats.

His versatility intrigued Kansas City, too. Marrero can catch in an emergency, Peña said, and the Royals were confident enough in his defensive ability at first base to send All-Star Ken Harvey to Class AAA Omaha.

Marrero, likewise, believes in the Royals.

“People are picking us to be in last,” he said, “You never know. Last year, people picked Atlanta toward the bottom, and we won the division by 10 games.

“It's all motivation. A couple of wins here and there. Get the team going. Everyone starts thinking right.”

Marrero's been doing that since 1998. It seems to have worked pretty well.

04-02-2005, 03:06 AM
Wow, nice story, I hope he does well