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This story is a bit of a rewind but it’s worth re-telling. It’s about retired Major League Baseball player Andres Galarraga, a first baseman and one of the game’s top hitters at the time. Winner of the 1993 National League batting title, his nickname was the Big Cat for his defensive agility as well. In 1994, playing for the Atlanta Braves, he hit an astounding 44 home runs and was named to the All-Star team for the fourth time. It also made him the first player ever to hit 40 home runs in back to back years for two different teams. He was 37 years old.
Immediately following that season, his life took a different turn when persistent back pain led to a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Given the location of his cancer, playing through treatment was out of the question. He missed the entire season. Galarragas returned the next year to a standing ovation on Opening Day. In an article that ran shortly after his return, the L.A. Times wrote, “During his six rounds of chemotherapy last summer, Galarraga ballooned to 280 pounds, and he suffered from nausea. When he was done with chemo, he had a month of radiation. At times he could scarcely recognize himself.”
The year he returned to the field, Galarraga played as if he’d never missed a beat, defying all expectations. He was named to his fifth career All-Star game that year and won the National League Comeback Player of the Year award.
In that same L.A. Times article, Galarraga said it was his mission to show other cancer sufferers that the disease can be beaten, that a seriously ill person can get stronger, and even better.
Boy did he ever.