After beating cancer twice, Chad Bettis is ready to enjoy life and baseball

Tim Brown
MLB columnist

LOS ANGELES – Assuming good things, and he has good things coming, Chad Bettis will pitch this season, perhaps as soon as next month.

Bettis, the right-hander for the Colorado Rockies and a 14-game winner just last season, had cancer. He recovered. Then he had cancer again, followed by chemotherapy and, he’s hoping, recovered again.

That’s a lot of feeling crappy, and feeling scared, and feeling like everyone else is out doing fun stuff while you’re busy slowly getting sicker or slowly getting better, and then doing it all again.

Well, right in the middle of all that, on March 29, Chad and his wife, Kristina, had their first child, a daughter named Everleigh. She was – is – beautiful, as children are, and then life was about more than getting through the crummy days while trying to hold down half a Smoothie.

“She was born when she was born for a reason,” he said, “and that was to help us get through the chemotherapy, the hard parts.”

He’s begun throwing again, getting his legs under him again, piecing together the muscles and the mechanics and the wind that will get him to a mound again, then help a Rockies team that suddenly could use some pitching.

Back among teammates and in uniform, he stood recently in front of his locker at Dodger Stadium. He smiled easily. His eyes reddened at the thought of his little girl, of the fight he’d been through, of how wonderful it seemed to stand in front of a locker at Dodger Stadium. He still gets to do this, and raise a family too, and now the reason is bigger than wins and ERA.

Chad Bettis, the right-hander for the Colorado Rockies and a 14-game winner just last season, had cancer. (Getty Images)

“It’s still where it’s going to be,” he said of his illness. “I’ll put it as far back in my head as possible now and expect to be done with it for good. Now it’s getting back into the routine of life and into the routine of being a baseball player again.

“This is something I’ve always dreamed about. It’s still really close to my heart. It’s still really meaningful. But my family is much more so. I want to do everything I can to provide for my family.”

There’ll be more blood tests. More scans. It’ll be a daily process of tamping the anxiety of what may or may not be happening in his body, but Bettis seems OK with that. He has his wife, his daughter, his health and his game. That’s about all he could ask for. That, and another today.

“That’s exactly right,” he said. “We’re not used to that. We’re used to going, ‘What’s next?’ Instead of enjoying what’s in front of you.”

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The Los Angeles Angels are like most, which is to say they’re not great and they’re not terrible. They do, it should be said, have every reason to be terrible, or at least be teetering toward terrible. But, like we said, they’re not.

As their manager, Mike Scioscia, said, “Five-hundred baseball is nothing to throw a parade about. But it’s a start. We think we can get better.”

Now, everybody, from the league’s best team to its worst, believes it can get better. That’s how sports, especially team sports, work. There’s always some dude hitting .188, which means there’s always some other dude saying, “Man, when he gets going …”

Anyway, of all the teams that could reasonably expect to get better in the short term, only one of them employs Mike Trout, and he’ll return from hand surgery in the second half, if not before. An average team when Trout was injured, the Angels have continued to be average. They are 14-12 over about a month, and there are reasons for why they didn’t just flat-line, and one of them is the bullpen, and in that bullpen is young man named Keynan Middleton.

Rookie pitcher Keynan Middleton is one of the reasons why the Angels didn’t just flat-line without Mike Trout. (AP Images)

He is 23 years old, right-handed, from outside Portland, Oregon, has a 2-year-old daughter named Kamrynn, an offseason job coaching junior varsity basketball (a team for which his little brother plays) and a fastball that reaches 100 mph and for a very long time expected to be playing basketball right about now and not baseball.

“Everybody’s path is different,” he said this week. “That’s the cool thing.”

Drafted in the third round in 2013 as a starting pitcher, Middleton spent three minor-league seasons as a two-pitch starter, which didn’t go particularly well, and so he spent many nights wondering if he’d ever master a changeup and, if not, if he’d ever be good enough. So the Angels made him a reliever, a job in which two pitches are plenty, and after one season and one month at that, Middleton was in the major leagues, holding leads, striking out more than a batter an inning, impressing coaches and teammates with his toughness, and being one small reason the Angels have not been terrible.

His father is a salesman for the McGuire Bearing Company in Portland. His mother is a waitress at McMenamins in Portland. His wife worked at Dutch Bros Coffee in Portland while Keynan was making minor-league money. The smile, then, is real, just as is his appreciation for the path that led here, and for where it might go.

“It’s come fast,” he said. “I’m trying not to miss any of it.”

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WHAT ELSE:

Brandon McCarthy, at 33, has lived the pitcher’s life. Sixty-three wins, 71 losses, 12 seasons, six teams, Tommy John surgery, shoulder issues, fractured skull, a dalliance with the yips, $60-million-or-so earned and probably a handful of other things that could go here, some good, some not so great, and all of it part of the texture of a career. He threw a few wild pitches Sunday against the Colorado Rockies, leading to speculation the yips may have returned, and then the Los Angeles Dodgers put him on the disabled list because of a sore knee. Nothing’s easy, man.

Don’t blame the Washington Nationals for trying, after all their bullpen ERA is approaching 5, but Francisco Rodriguez seems the longest of shots. At 35, and it’s amazing he’s just 35, K-Rod just washed out of the Detroit Tigers’ bullpen, the only one in baseball with a worse ERA than the Nationals’.

Love, love, love the Eric Thames story. He’s also batting .175 since May 21.

What we’re reading: an advance copy of The Big Chair, a memoir by Ned Colletti. It lands in October, and it’ll be worth your wait.

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INCOMING:

Into Tuesday, the Houston Astros had the best team ERA in the American League. The New York Yankees were second. Also, the Astros led the league in runs and the Yankees were second. They are one (Astros), three (Yankees) in home runs.

They keep this up, that would be a fun postseason series. Meantime, we’ll take three at Minute Maid Park this weekend. The Astros won three of four in New York in May.

The probables:

Friday: Michael Pineda vs. Lance McCullers Jr.

Saturday: Jordan Montgomery vs. Francis Martes

Sunday: Luis Severino vs. Mike Fiers

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