Baseball America magazine named Pacific Lutheran junior right-handed pitcher Max Beatty as its top 2012 professional draft prospect currently playing NCAA Division III baseball.
What Baseball America didn't know at the time, however, is that Max was diagnosed with testicular cancer and will miss the 2012 season.
In December, Max heard from his doctor the shocking news that he had testicular cancer. Following a surgical procedure, Max was hopeful of returning to his team this spring with the goal of helping the Lutes battle for the Northwest Conference baseball title.
That won't happen, however, because doctors found cancer tracers in post-surgery blood work. Max now faces a different battle. He started chemotherapy treatments today and as a result will not be in school this semester so that he can focus on his treatments.
"He told me that he'd just been hit with a bombshell," remembers Brock Gates, a teammate who also shares a house with Max, "and the worst thing I thought was that he was ineligible. It turned out so much worse than that." Brock remembers that when Max told him that he had testicular cancer, "I thought he was pulling my leg. I said, 'Dude, don't joke with me like that,' because he's such a jokester."
But Max wasn't joking, and now the Lutes will be without one of the top right-handed pitching prospects in all of Division III baseball.
Instead, Max faces five cycles of chemotherapy treatments (five days on, two weeks off and repeat) over the next several months. The end goal is that Max becomes cancer free and regains both the health and pitching form that made him the top Division III draft prospect this year as determined by Baseball America.
"The (Beatty) family has tried to stay positive and we've tried to stay positive," PLU head coach Geoff Loomis said regarding Max's treatment and recovery. "The baseball piece is secondary right now to Max regaining his health."
Baseball America had good reason to list the sturdy junior at the top of its potential draft list, noting his 6-feet 2-inch, 210-pound body, and a four-pitch arsenal.
His statistics solidify his stature as a potential future professional pitcher. Max had a solid 2011 campaign for the Lutes, compiling a 5-4 record and a 3.75 earned run average to earn honorable mention All-Northwest Conference honors.
He carried that momentum into summer baseball with the Corvallis (Ore.) Knights of the West Coast Baseball League, helping the Knights win the league title while earning second team All-West Coast League and West Division all-star status. He finished with a 6-2 record and a 2.70 earned run average in 12 regular-season and playoff appearances for the Knights. He led the Knights with 63 1/3 innings pitched and 53 strikeouts and tied for the team lead in wins.
Now, the task of facing collegiate hitters takes a back seat to a more serious challenge for Max.
Amazingly, Beatty is the third Pacific Lutheran player in the 10-year tenure of head coach Geoff Loomis to face a serious illness. The other two, Nolan Soete and Eric Stanczyk, are now PLU baseball assistant coaches.
Soete, now 30, was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia, a rare blood disorder, in the fall of 2002. His treatment included a five-day blast of chemotherapy to destroy his immune system, which led up to a successful bone marrow transplant from his sister, Jacinda, who turned out to be a perfect match.
Soete took a year off from school and baseball before playing his final two seasons and earning his degree from the university. Nolan came back "probably too early," he said, and hit only .200 as a junior, before hitting .300 during his senior season. Even then, Soete feels like it took him about five years before he felt physically as strong as he had before the illness.
"I've been through a lot of the experiences that he's going to go through," Soete said of Beatty, "and I'm sure we'll talk more about it."
He added, "I have no doubt that Max is going to get through it."
Stanczyk, 28, who came to PLU the same year that Soete was diagnosed, was found to have testicular cancer later that year. He had the testicle removed and went through radiation treatments to wipe out any remaining cancer cells.
It took Stanczyk about 18 months, he said, to get his hormone levels back to a level where he felt the energy he had prior to his diagnosis. He did not miss any school and continued to play during his recovery, even earning honorable mention all-conference and academic all-district honors as a senior. He received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from PLU.
Still, as the Lutes prepare for the 2012 season, they do so without their best pitcher, and one of their best friends.
"We're a family, and he's one of our family members," Gates said, adding that the team will support him "whatever it takes."
As a way of showing that support, all of the team members except one shaved their heads prior to the start of the season. The one who didn't, senior pitcher Nathan Eisenhauer, kept his frizzy hair for a reason. It seems that Beatty is a fan of Eisenhauer's mop of hair, and Nathan couldn't think of a better way to honor Max than to keep his hair.
"We lost our biggest dominating force," Gates said. "We're going to have to find a way to adapt. It's not one person that is going to have to fill Max's shoes. We're going to have to do it as a team, find a way as a team to be competitive."
- PLU -