Mike Lowell and Eli Marrero have much in common: They are of Cuban descent, they were teammates in Little League and at Coral Gables ( Fla.) High, and they have defeated cancer and returned to the major leagues. In March 1998, during spring training with the St. Louis Cardinals, Marrero, then 24 and a rookie, was told he had thyroid cancer. Thirty-eight days after surgery to remove his thyroid gland, Marrero homered and tripled in the Cardinals' 8-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants. However, throughout '98 Marrero was fatigued by postsurgical iodine treatment. He also was sapped emotionally. "After all the stuff that happened, mentally I wasn't ready," Marrero says. "Baseball really didn't seem that important to me."
Today, coming off a career-best .266 season, Marrero is going full blast. Playing catcher, first-base and all three outfield positions, the 6'1", 180-pound Marrero was batting .284 at week's end with two homers (including a three-run smash on Sunday in St. Louis's 10-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds) and 12 RBIs. Says his manager, Tony La Russa, "Eli is one of the best athletes in baseball with his quickness, his live bat, his arm and his defensive capabilities."
Lowell and Marrero are two of a dozen players (the others are listed at right with team and age at the time of diagnosis) who in recent seasons were afflicted with cancer but were able to return to action.
Scott Radinsky, LHP, White Sox
Hodgkin's disease, February 1994, age 25 Retired 2000
Jerry DiPoto, RHP, Indians
Thyroid cancer, March 1994, age 25 Retired 2000
John Kruk, IB, Phillies
Testicular cancer, March 1994, age 33 Retired 1995
Darren Daulton, C, Phillies
Skin cancer, August 1994, age 32 Retired 1997
Danny Jackson, LHP, Cardinals
Thyroid cancer, February 1995, age 33 Retired 1997
Tim Spehr, C, Expos
Testicular cancer, August 1995, age 29 Retired 1999
Brett Butler, OF, Dodgers
Tonsil cancer, May 1996, age 38 Retired 1997