With rain falling at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, a few players watched Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop at one end of the locker room Tuesday afternoon while others munched on a pre-game meal. RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco was in his office.
Diagnosed withcancer during spring training, DeFrancesco said locker room camaraderie is one of things he missed most while undergoing treatment for the disease.
“I’m ready to go, excited to be here,” said DeFrancesco, who returned Tuesday night. “I thank the Lord for allowing me to be back.
“This was all new to me. Cancer affects so many people in this world, and I was one of them. This will make me a stronger person with a different outlook on life.”
After he was diagnosed with an unnamed cancer during spring training in mid-March, DeFrancesco, 51, spent six weeks undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments at the MD Anderson Center in Houston. He then returned to his home in Mesa, Ariz., to recuperate.
“I want to thank the Astros for allowing me to get better and thank my wife and my family for all their support, plus the hundreds of texts and e-mails I received,” DeFrancesco said. “I’ve been doing this 31 years, counting when I played. It’s great to be back.”
Tom Lawless, who has served as interim manager, will remain with the RedHawks to ease the transition. Lawless will then return to his job as the Astros roving infield instructor.
Pitcher Paul Clemens has played for DeFrancesco two different seasons.
“This goes way beyond baseball,” Clemens said. “Just to see him back to work is awesome. The biggest thing is him getting back to health, getting his body right. Right now, baseball takes a backseat to his health while we go out and continue to win ballgames.”
DeFrancesco addressed the team Tuesday afternoon, hours before it played the Omaha Storm Chasers. He told players he watched many of their first 52 games on the internet.
After providing details of his experience, DeFrancesco said it would be the last time he would talk about his cancer; asking players to focus on baseball.
“To go through what he went through shows the kind of person he is, how he won’t give up,” said pitcher Asher Wojciechowski. “He’s a fighter, a competitor. It’s great to have him back.”
RedHawks first baseman Jon Singleton, the Houston Astros’ Minor League Player of the Month in April, said: “It was a life experience not just for him but us because we were sort of going through it with him. It’s great to have him back, see how well he’s doing.”
DeFrancesco said he cried in the early stages after he was told what tests results revealed, but doctors told him they were confident they caught the cancer early.
“The treatments are very difficult,” DeFrancesco said. “The chemo and the radiation weaken you. It drains your whole body. It’s like starting over.”
Days after completing treatments, walking one block was a major undertaking for DeFrancesco, who usually stands in the third base coach’s box during games. A few weeks later, he was hiking in the desert with his wife, Adriene.
“I’ve started running again,” DeFrancesco said. “It’s now a matter of getting my stamina back and getting my legs under me. I feel good mentally.”
The Bronx, N.Y., native has led a Triple-A team to the playoffs seven of the past 10 seasons. His teams are a combined 175 games above .500 the past decade. The RedHawks had the best record last season in the Pacific Coast League.
DeFrancesco is scheduled to have follow-up tests in June and July.
“Baseball is a big part of my life, but I found out family and friends are No. 1 and baseball comes next,” DeFrancesco said. “Once somebody tells you have cancer it changes your life. I told the players exactly what happened, some of the symptoms and the effects from cancer.
“It’s part of my life, but I don’t want to bring anyone down. I told them the game goes on whether I’m here or not. But putting on a uniform has been a big part of my life. Hopefully I can continue to put on a uniform the next 10 to 15 years.”