Few people need life put in perspective less than Rangers manager Jeff Banister.
The 51-year-old beat cancer as a teen and then overcame a major spinal cord injury during a home plate collision in college.
But he shared a story at the end of Sunday’s spring training press briefing that offered another jolt of reality.
Banister called to encourage Lake Travis High School pitcher Walker Reese, 18, who is battling a rare form of cancer. Banister received a letter from Reese’s family earlier in the day. Reese received the diagnosis three weeks ago and has already begun chemotherapy. The cancer, called desmoplastic small-round-cell tumor, has a five-year survival rate of about 15 percent. The conversation obviously affected Banister.
“For a 51-year-old father of two in charge of and responsible to a group of men who get to play this wondrous game of baseball, it kind of threw perspective my way for a guy who has been through a number of things,” Banister said, choking back his emotions. “We get to come out and enjoy our jobs and have fun doing it. Cancer is that word that kind of shudders us all.”
Banister asked Reese what kind of message he should give to his players during Sunday’s practice. Banister was stunned by the request.
“To play each game and prepare each day as though it was the last one they get an opportunity to play,” Banister said. “Out of respect for him, I will walk around and give that message to each one of our guys.”
Banister’s message to Reese was to find something positive during his fight and to hold on to it tight. And to allow his loved ones to provide strength and support.
“That’s probably the most challenging thing, to allow the people around you to be the strength and not try to take it all upon yourself,” Banister said.
“It was a really cool experience to talk to someone as high up in the organization as him,” said Reese, who was born in Fort Worth and grew up a Rangers fan. “He had a lot of things to say. It meant a lot to know that he was thinking of me.”
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760