Commentary

Josh Dickerson back in the batter's box

Updated: May 2, 2012, 6:32 PM ET
By Jon Mahoney | ESPNHS

Josh Dickerson Rick Dahms/ESPNHSJosh Dickerson underwent chemotherapy for rhabdomyosarcoma, a form of soft-tissue cancer that doctors discovered in the back of his jaw.

The box score read base on balls, but what seemed like a simple walk carried far greater significance to Josh Dickerson.

It was the 2011 season opener for the O'Dea (Seattle) baseball team, which had won its second consecutive Class 3A state title the previous spring. But all the pomp and circumstance associated with the Fighting Irish kicking off their title defense against Inglemoor (Kenmore, Wash.) took a backseat to Dickerson's return.

Just seven months before the game, on Aug. 16, 2010, Dickerson had received his last chemotherapy treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma, a form of soft-tissue cancer that doctors discovered in the back of his jaw. Yet here he was starting for one of Washington's best baseball teams.

As Dickerson strode to the plate for his first at-bat, his heart nearly jumped out of his chest and his legs felt like rubber, partly from nerves and partly from being so weak because of all the chemo sessions he had endured. So when he worked a walk in his first at-bat, it might as well have been a walk-off grand slam given the ovation he received.

"I sprinted to first as fast as I could," said Dickerson, now a junior infielder. "All the fans started clapping. It was the loudest at-bat of my life."

"Just to see him dressed on the field, I was like, 'Wow, the kid did it,'" said his father, Kiyo. "We weren't even sure he'd play again."

In the summer of 2009, the word "cancer" didn't cross Dickerson's mind when he was experiencing pain in his mouth. He thought it was just his wisdom teeth coming in, so when the pain wouldn't subside after a couple of months, he went to have the teeth extracted.

Josh Dickerson
Rick Dahms/ESPNHSDickerson was confirmed cancer-free in his one-year postchemo scan this past summer.
During the surgery, the dentist discovered an abscess near one of his wisdom teeth. The abscess was removed and tested, and it came back negative. But it quickly grew back. After Dickerson was tested a second time, it came back positive for cancer.

"I got emotional," Dickerson said. "I wanted to get chemo right away so it didn't get worse."

Dickerson began chemo sessions in November 2009 but still went to school every day. Once he started receiving radiation treatments, however, even making it out of the house was difficult.

"It was the worst feeling I've ever had," Dickerson said. "I didn't think I would last nine months of chemo. For days, I couldn't get out of bed."

Dickerson could barely hold down food and lost close to 20 pounds off his 130-pound frame. And with all the medication he was on, he couldn't concentrate on his schoolwork. So he decided it was best to miss the rest of the school year and focus on battling the cancer.

Once the spring of 2010 rolled around, though, Dickerson started thinking about baseball. He knew he couldn't help his O'Dea teammates on the field, so he decided to muster up what little strength he had and support the Fighting Irish from the stands as often as he could. In turn, his teammates had T-shirts made with the words "Team Strong" written across the back.

"We liked being able to help him, but we appreciated more the fact he was sacrificing his health and well-being to be out there and cheering us on," O'Dea coach Mike Doyle said.

Dickerson repeated his sophomore year last year, and this past summer he was confirmed cancer-free in his one-year postchemo scan. He hopes to start at shortstop for the Fighting Irish in the spring after starting nearly every game at third base last season. And you can be sure he'll enjoy each day he steps onto the diamond.

"I didn't think I would get cancer," he says. "But after beating cancer, I know that tomorrow is not promised."

Jon Mahoney is a football and baseball editor for ESPNHS. Email him at jon.mahoney@espn.com.