Like clockwork, in a private batting cage in the back of an industrial-park building, Mike Bible picks baseballs out of a bucket and places them on a tee for his son, Chad.
First, chest high, then, like a crafty pitcher, low and away.
Each time, Chad levels a metal bat on the ball with less than optimal strength, but with more precision than ever.
After 30 or so hacks, Mike exits the cage. Chad crouches.
By the end of this session, which will last all of 13 minutes, Chad’s back will hurt. Heck, it will all hurt.
Chemotherapy has stolen a lot from the Valencia High graduate: a season of baseball at San Diego State, a semester of school, strands of his hair.
But he’ll be darned if treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma takes the precious minutes that come twice every couple weeks, before his energy is zapped, before life consists of sleep and vomit, before all he wants is a foot rub.
For now, he swings.
A pitching machine beeps and the bat thwacks.
Minutes later, the right-handed hitter calls for just two more. He laces one the other way. He blasts one up the middle.
He waits on a third. It feels his wrath.
“You came on a good day,” he says to a visitor. “This is the best I’ve done, probably.”
The hope, of course, is that the 21-year-old’s best days lie ahead – as he continues to pursue the game he refuses to leave behind.
To hell and back again
The 45-mile drive from Santa Clarita to City of Hope hospital in Duarte is usually silent.
Chad settles into the passenger’s seat, reclines and rests on a pillow.
He tries to sleep or listens to music. Nothing particular.
His body knows the day (every other Thursday) and the time (he arrives around 8 a.m.), as seen in the vomit that comes before treatment even begins.
On each visit since Feb. 23, Bible has received four IVs of chemo to combat the stage 2B Hodgkin’s lymphoma he was diagnosed with in January. He sleeps for most of the three-and-a-half-hour infusion.
“Thank God,” he says.
After treatment, the next few days are foggy. Bible sleeps and throws up, vacillating between bed and couch.
By Tuesday, some strength has returned. He drinks coffee and eats bagels and eggs. He spends time with his girlfriend. He reads books like “The Science of Hitting” by Ted Williams.
If he feels up to it, he heads for the batting cage with Mike later in the week. If not, he lets the weekend pass.
By the time the next treatment rolls around, he feels as normal as possible. Then…
“The chemo half kills you,” Mike says. “You try to recuperate from it, and right when he’s starting to feel like it’s not an effort 24/7, you have to go through it again.”
In a far lesser sense, Bible already knew the challenge of starting over.
After pummeling high school pitching at Valencia High, Bible earned a scholarship to perennial Division 1 power Cal State Fullerton.
It became clear in his first fall, though, that it wasn’t a fit. Bible didn’t see eye to eye with the coach, and after redshirting in the spring, he decided to transfer back home to College of the Canyons.
Says COC baseball coach Chris Cota, “He was going to prove that he belonged at a Division 1 school.”
He led all California community college players in home runs (15) and RBIs (61) in 2016 and quickly caught the eye of San Diego State coach Mark Martinez.
A strong fall with the Aztecs earned Bible a spot as the team’s left fielder and cleanup hitter, but all was not well.
Bible had noticed a lump near his collarbone in May 2016, but tests didn’t reveal anything. After arriving in San Diego, lumps appeared at the base of his neck. Then one large lump formed under the right side of his jaw.
On Jan. 10, sitting in the team doctor’s office, Bible received the diagnosis.
“She gets in the room,” he says, “and I’m obviously nervous. She says, ‘I’m just going to come right out and say it.’”
The doc’s lips kept moving. Bible heard nothing after lymphoma.
Attending class and playing baseball for the entire spring wasn’t realistic. But Bible pressed on as far as he could.
Amid rounds of chemo, he managed two pinch-hit at-bats, the latter a sure double that he attempted to stretch into a triple.
Thrown out, his teammates climbed out of the dugout to congratulate him.
“My proudest baseball moment,” he says, adding that he’s determined it won’t be his last, no matter how long the road back.
Despite being in remission since his eighth round (Hodgkin’s responds relatively well to chemo), doctors prescribed four more treatments to make sure all the cancer was out.
“It was a relief (to be in remission), but it was also like, ‘God, I have to go through four rounds of this?’” Bible says. “It’s tough getting that treatment when there’s nothing left in there.”
A scan is scheduled for two weeks after Bible’s final treatment on July 27. The goal, then, is that after the port in his chest (through which the chemo has been administered) is surgically removed, he can begin training at “100 percent.”
He’ll have plenty of rebuilding to do.
Since February, he’s dropped from a muscly 230 pounds to a little under 200.
“I’ll be eating like a crazy person and lifting as much as I can,” he says.
A new perspective
Asked Friday, a day after round 11, how he was feeling, Bible responded via text message, “I feel like I’m dying, man!”
“I’m pretty out of it,” he said, “and yesterday was a grinder, but every second is one step closer to being done, so I’m good!”
Then he said, “How you doing? Everything good on your end?”
It’s not that Bible didn’t care about people before cancer. He just didn’t always express it.
“I want to thank my family, my girlfriend’s family and my girlfriend,” Bible says, “and everyone who reached out to me and prayed for me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
It’s part of a new perspective, one in which he views life as fragile and baseball as precious.
He wants his play to inspire others: If he can overcome cancer to continue a career, so can others.
“No matter what someone is going through,” he says, “you can always work through it. No matter how tough the situation.”