PITTSBURGH — Jameson Taillon felt like he was in a movie, as if he was watching somebody else’s life change and not his own.
The Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher felt something “odd” in his groin and alerted trainers while on the road earlier this month in Cincinnati. Two days later, there the 25-year-old was getting pulled aside by a doctor and being told there’s a chance he has testicular cancer.
“My heart was racing,” Taillon said.
Just not for long.
Taillon’s grown accustomed to adversity thanks to a career peppered with unforeseen obstacles, from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in 2014 to sports hernia surgery in 2015 that threatened to sidetrack his young career completely. He finally arrived in the majors last summer, and a bout with cancer isn’t going to stop him.
“My immediate thought (after the diagnosis) was what next? What can I do to get better?” Taillon said.
The first step was surgery conducted on May 8, a procedure that sounded more frightening in his mind than in reality. He was home by the end of the day and is already back playing catch and doing light cardio while he awaits further blood tests to determine whether there is any cancer remaining in his system.
This is not how he envisioned his first full season in the majors going. He was 2-1 with a 3.31 ERA in his first six starts, pitching with a maturity of a guy who’s been around far longer than a few months. Call it the residue of the earlier struggles that delayed his arrival in the big leagues.
“I wasn’t going to let this stop me or put me down in the dumps,” he said.
Taillon was overwhelmed by the response when he posted news of his diagnosis on social media. Cyclist Lance Armstrong, a testicular cancer survivor and founder of the Livestrong Foundation, has reached out. Former big league first baseman John Kruk, another survivor, has called too. Taillon is also exchanging texts with Colorado Rockies pitcher Chad Bettis, who was diagnosed last fall and is still undergoing treatment.
The attention has been a little weird. Yet Taillon is trying to embrace the opportunity and raise awareness. It’s not the most comfortable subject but one he’s learned could be vitally important.
“I don’t think guys are nearly aware enough as they should be,” he said. “I’ll find a way to speak out, be an advocate for early detection.”
Taillon added he’s received nothing but positive news about his long-term prospects. He declined to put any sort of timetable on his return pending more test results but the fact it’s even a subject for discussion is a welcome development.
“One of my big baseball philosophies … if I put runners on base, I can’t worry about how they got there,” he said. “I can’t worry about how I got here, just worry about the plan going forward.”
Watching his teammates scuffle without him hasn’t been easy. Taillon admits he’s “totally out of control” sitting on his couch. He’s confident he won’t have to remain there much longer. It’s a mindset that’s hardly a surprise to Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle.
“He made a decision a long time ago to own whatever happens to him, to not pick excuses and not pick at things, to own it and work with it and do the best he can with it,” Hurdle said. “This is another opportunity for him to do just that and he’ll come back better and not bitter. He’s special.”