Cancer strikes out against Fort Vancouver grad

By Kurt Zimmer, Columbian Sports Reporter

Published:

 

Seattle TV station KING 5’s story with Pacific Lutheran’s Max Beatty and coach Geoff Loomis:

http://tinyurl.com/bb2ra6o

On the verge of his junior baseball season at Pacific Lutheran University, everything was going great for Vancouver pitcher Max Beatty.

Following a solid sophomore season — a 5-4 record in 11 starts and two other appearances for a 19-20 team — the Fort Vancouver High School graduate was preparing for the start of practice for the 2011 season when baseball suddenly took a back seat.

While home during PLU's winter break at the end of 2011, Beatty learned the cause of the discomfort he had been feeling for about a month when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

"Once I got that phone call, it was pretty much what you'd expect with something huge like that just getting dropped on you," said Beatty, a 21-year-old 6-foot-3 right-hander. "I just had no idea to even expect it, and I was just shocked. As tough as it was, I just knew the best thing to do was just stay clear-headed and keep a set goal and just try to get back healthy again and stay as positive as I can through the whole thing."

About a week after Beatty's diagnosis, the publication Baseball America named him the No. 1 draft prospect in NCAA Division III.

Following surgery, a medical redshirt season and time away from school while undergoing a four-month chemotherapy regimen, Beatty returned to baseball feeling better than ever.

Three weeks ago, Baseball America rated the redshirt junior as the No. 2 prospect in Division III.

Diagnosis and treatment

Soon after his diagnosis, Beatty underwent surgery to remove both testicles.

As far as a particular concern about this type of cancer, there was some good news: Beatty's sperm was still viable, so he was able to have samples frozen that can be used in the future for in vitro pregnancy.

"That was great news, because that's one of the biggest things I was worried about right when I found out about testicular cancer: What about kids in the future?" Beatty said. "But they found out that my sperm was still healthy enough to fertilize an egg, so they were able to freeze it and I'll be able to use it down the road."

Still with tumor levels showing in his blood work but not on CT scans, Beatty then went on chemotherapy: five rounds of treatments lasting from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. for five consecutive days, followed by two weeks off.

Chemotherapy can be brutal.

Perhaps because he was a young and healthy athlete, for Beatty, it was not.

"I lost my hair, but the only thing was that I was just really tired," he said. "I didn't have the real negatives. I didn't have nausea. The nausea did come on the Saturday and Sunday, the two days after the five days on because all the steroids are wearing off. That's when I'd feel the crummiest, but after two days, I was right back to normal."

Staying positive

Baseball begins soon after players return to campus following the winter break, making the timing of the diagnosis crushing.

"I was devastated about that," Beatty said. "I mean, obviously my health is my first priority, but baseball's right up there for me, so I was really bummed out about that. We had a great group of guys coming in for that season. They were all so supportive that year and helped me get through it as much as they could. That was awesome."

As he learned that he felt good for those two weeks after the five days of chemotherapy and a couple days of nausea, Beatty was right back to normal so much that he was playing recreation league basketball — and throwing baseballs — with his older brother Sam.

"Definitely when I was going through chemotherapy, I had those two weeks off and I was kind of feeling how my body was reacting," he said. "I could see that I was still doing really well and I was healthy," he said. "I was staying active and definitely keeping my arm healthy throughout the whole thing. It was a matter of once I get that clean bill, I'm ready to head out on the field and get going again."

PLU coach Geoff Loomis certainly noticed.

"He seemed intent on beating cancer from the day he found out he had it," the coach said. "At no point did he waiver in his conviction. At no point did I hear him say, 'Why did this happen to me?' Instead his focus was on when, not if, he was going to be back on the field."

Back on the field

When Beatty returned, he still had a 92 mph fastball he uses to overpower hitters the way he overpowered cancer.

"I attack hitters," he said. "I'll come right after anyone, then as much as I can keep them off balance and stay ahead in the count, that's the way I win games. I try to do that every single time."

Beatty is 2-0 this season and was named Northwest Conference Pitcher of the Week on Feb. 12 after throwing 10 shutout innings in Lutes victories over Concordia of Portland and Concordia of Texas at the Arizona Desert Classic tournament in Surprise, Ariz. He struck out 14 and allowed six hits in the two games.

"Max was a pitcher that we liked in high school because he knew how to pitch," Loomis said. "When he entered PLU as a freshman he was hitting 83 mph, but we liked him because he could throw his off-speed pitches for strikes. As Max grew into his frame and added muscle, his fastball came to life. Now he has it all and it's a credit to his work ethic. He is every bit the pitcher he was before he had cancer."

After last week off, PLU (4-2) plays four games this weekend at the CCC-NWC Challenge at Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore., with games against Cascade Collegiate Conference opponents Corban, Oregon Tech and Concordia, plus the host Wildcats.

Beatty is scheduled to start against Linfield at 5 p.m. Friday.

Looking ahead

While he looks forward to the amateur draft and where his path with lead from here, team goals are most important to Beatty.

"I'm hoping to go out there and win a championship with my team," he said. "Along with that, I just want to keep doing the best I can and hopefully be able to enter this draft and snag a spot pretty high up in the selections. That's my ultimate goal, but we'll see how it all pans out. If I need to play another year in college, then so be it. If not, then dreams come true."

Beatty still has periodic "surveillance" testing done to make sure he remains cancer-free. He spoke Monday after spending the morning have blood drawn, X-rays and a CT scan, but said he should not have to do that again for a year if those tests come back clean.

He does not want to be defined by his cancer battle, but he takes the positives of what he went through and he is not shy talking about it.

Of course, in a turn of phrase worthy of baseball legend Yogi Berra, one would have to know Beatty had cancer to know Beatty had cancer.

"I've talked with a bunch of my friends, and they tell me, 'It doesn't seem like you ever had cancer,' " Beatty said. "It's not something that I wear, but I don't have any problem talking about it.

"I'm not going to flaunt it or anything, but it's something I had and I got over it. I'm a better person and a stronger person from it, and I've learned a lot from it."

Suggestions for College Notebook? Contact Kurt Zimmer at 360-735-4563 or kurt.zimmer@columbian.com.