‘It hasn’t quite hit me yet’: Two years after cancer battle, Trey Mancini reaches World Series

HOUSTON – The bachelor party will be in Dublin, preceding a December wedding and a European honeymoon, one year after proposing in Ireland and exploring Amsterdam. Future years will bring trips to farther-flung climes, Africa and Asia and Australia.

Trey Mancini and his fiancée, Sara Perlman, have what would seem like a meticulously-planned few months ahead, followed by a life determination to explore. It’s not unlike anything many young couples might aspire to, yet it is just as much about fulfilling a promise Mancini made to himself as it is the wanderlust.

“A lot of life experiences,” Mancini said Thursday, on the eve of one of his biggest to date. “That’s what I said we’d always do if I made it through. It puts a lot in perspective.

“You want to live your life to the fullest.”

Friday night, Mancini will take the field at Minute Maid Park for Game 1 of the World Series, a sudden detour after a trade from the Baltimore Orioles to the Houston Astros. What would be dizzying to many, though, was merely another adjustment in a two-year period that saw Mancini’s life jeopardized by colon cancer.

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The period from March to September 2020 marked Mancini’s darkest hours followed by his pivot toward hope. A March diagnosis of colon cancer followed by surgery put the Oriole in a fight for his life while the rest of the world coped with a COVID-19 lockdown. When the Orioles opened the abbreviated 2020 season in a Camden Yards bereft of fans, they quietly took the field while slapping a dugout sign with Mancini’s name and “F16HT” emblazoned.

Months later, Mancini would have another date to mark, like a major league debut, a wedding date, winning the pennant.

Sept. 21, 2020 marked his final chemotherapy treatment, a welcome but tenuous moment, baseball still not at the forefront but survival far likelier.

“I’m past two years, which is huge,” says Mancini, 30, whose chance at survival was greatly enhanced when unusual fatigue during spring training compelled a trainer to urge Mancini to undergo tests. “I’m always a little superstitious. Not a cart before the horse guy. But everything looks great.

“I’m just going to keep on living.”

And so he returned to the Orioles in 2021, to adoring home fans and even some sympathetic ones in Boston and New York, places typically harsh on opponents. But Mancini’s plight was compelling, even if he felt a little awkward hearing their shouts of encouragement in the on-deck circle and outfield.

“In 2021, everyone was too nice to me, in a way,” he says. “I was missing the road experience. And here, that’s normal. And all I ever wanted was for things to be normal.”

Oh, there’s little normal about being an Astro. The club’s sign-stealing scandal of 2017 has made every player a target for opposing fans, even if they were nowhere near the club five years ago or packed a personal tale of emotional heft, like Mancini.

But he gladly wears it. The man who hit 35 homers in 2019 was beloved in Baltimore but a complementary piece in Houston, where he serves as designated hitter and contributed a key sacrifice fly in Game 3 of the ALCS at New York.

A night later, he took the first stab at sorting out his emotions of playing for baseball’s biggest prize after his ordeal.

“Anybody going through it, I know how tough it is to go through chemo,” Mancini said. “There were times I wasn’t sure I was going to live very long. To be back playing and much less be playing in a postseason like I dreamed about as a kid is pretty incredible. There’s definitely life after chemo and treatment.

“It hasn’t quite hit me yet.”

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It still hadn’t fully sunk in Thursday. Mancini said a deeper perspective will have to wait, after this Astros run concludes, maybe even not until he exchanges vows in December with Perlman, a TV sports reporter he met while with the Orioles.

It is likely he’ll have a new baseball home in 2023, though by now, that’s just another awaiting adventure in a life Mancini plans to fill with them.

“I’ll have time to go over the last two or three years and think of the proper words to say what the journey means,” he says.

“But I’m just so happy.” 

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