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The Big C

If baseball is life, then curve balls are cancer. Just ask Alex Silver.

Silver was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma just weeks before starting his freshman campaign at Disch Falk Field. The Big C at nineteen years of age. That’s not a curve ball, that’s devastating.

But his doctors told him it was curable. Beyond that, the prognosis for a complete recovery was at least 95% courtesy of his early detection. Missing the start of your first season as a Longhorn is an acceptable price for a disease-free life.

About the timing of the diagnosis, Silver says, "It’s one of those things where most people ask Why me? That really never went through my head."

Here is where I’m supposed to insert the trite line about Silver crushing a curve ball for a homerun, but this isn’t Walt Disney. This is Cancer. Chemotherapy. Radiation.

Silver is already back playing with the team, so there’s a happy ending to the story befitting an Asian massage parlor, but glossing those kinds of details is an injustice. As a society, we trivialize things. If something fits in a nice, neat compartment, it’s safer.

In this case, those details are all too real. The young third baseman underwent up to three hours of chemotherapy treatments every two weeks.

By now, cancer has seemingly touched everyone, so most carnival-goers have some conception for what level of commitment such a course requires. Seeing a friend or family member struggle through that type of travail lends gravity to Silver’s undertaking.

If you’re one of the fortunate ones that hasn’t had cancer rip open one of your comfortable compartments, I’ll save you a Google search. Silver had a kind of cancer that attacks part of your immune system. It was treated with a combination of injecting toxins into his blood to attack the disease and a follow-up course of targeted high-energy x-rays aimed as precisely as possible to destroy infected cells.

On April 5th, 2011, about three months after his initial diagnosis, Alex Silver saw his first game action as a Texas Longhorn. In a pinch hitting role, Silver was hitless in two trips and struck out once. Eat your heart out, Walt.

Last weekend the Houston-product (Bellaire HS) got his first collegiate start at third base against Baylor. Silver’s attitude toward cancer was also proving true on the diamond, "Take the bull by the horns and just go with it."

Lest some too-good-to-be-true character gets created, listen to what Silver had to say after Sunday’s game against the Bears, "I was really excited… I’m glad we got the win today."

Excited? Why not? He’s just a kid playing baseball…that had as tough of a three month stretch as most folks see in a lifetime.

Honestly…pause and consider that – here’s a young man that went from the toxicity of chemotherapy to the skill of collegiate baseball in three months’ time. Cancer? ‘Tis but a flesh wound.

"If you keep the mindset that you are going to be fine, you just stay positive the entire time and it is really not as bad as people make it out to be."
- Alex Silver

Beyond the Herculean attitude and being yet another tool at Augie Garrido’s disposal, Silver can have a major impact on the Horns’ season. After Sunday afternoon’s contest, Silver said, "I wanted to contribute", and I see three immediate ways that he will do so:

Defense
Silver has strong natural defensive skills and good range in the field. After playing a grounder off his chest in his first start, it’s easy to see how Silver earned all-state honors as a short stop at Bellaire. Before the diagnosis, it was Silver, not Erich Weiss, that was locked in a battle with Kevin Lusson for playing time at third base. Given the strength of Texas on the pitcher’s mound, improving the infield defense is a pulley not a rope.

Offense
How much success Silver has at the plate remains to be seen. His impact on offense is the domino-effect he has on the lineup card. Lucas Kephart is taking control of the DH spot and Weiss’ bat is far too valuable to leave in the dugout. So, as Silver takes the reins at third, that pushes Weiss into an outfield that already had more bodies than open grass. As Walla gets healthy and eases back into CF, that leaves only the two corner spots "open"…and by that I mean that Weiss will have one.

In 9 at bats, Silver has two singles, one walk, one RBI and a run scored. Shockingly that nearly matches the pace that other players have struggled to maintain. Even with no improvement, Silver represents addition by subtraction.

Chemistry
Before the first pitch of the season, the Texas players dedicated their season to Alex Silver. Small patches on hats and batting helmets are displayed to remind them of his struggles.

Hair loss is a common side effect of Silver’s treatment regime, so rather than wake up and find hair on his pillow every morning, he shaved his head. Shortly afterwards, Silver returned to Austin from receiving treatment in Houston and found a dugout full of heads that were shaved.

Support through solidarity.

This is a talented bunch of ballplayers that now has a rallying point in the dugout with them. It’s impossible to quantify the impact of emotion on a season, but playing with an edge is always an advantage.

This team is going to face adversity in the coming months. When on-field stakes are high and the challenge seems insurmountable, a batter is going to look down the dugout and see Alex Silver. This is a Tom Rinaldi script waiting to happen.

When asked about the team dedicating the season to him, Silver said, "It’s awesome. It’s unbelievable how much support I have through this entire thing."

I’ll let Rinaldi take the line about a silver lining. For now, I’m content to watch this team sit on their next curve ball.