DENVER -- Chad Bettis continues to measure life in milestones. Diagnosed with testicular cancer last year, he will attempt to clear another hurdle Tuesday in his relentless pursuit to return to the big leagues.
His schedule tweaked to reflect his progress, Bettis will throw live batting practice at Coors Field, the first of likely three such sessions before embarking on a minor league rehab assignment.
"The hitters are going to be swinging it," Bettis said in an exclusive interview with Denver7. "It's going to be big time."
Bettis, 28, began last winter as the anchor of the Rockies' rotation. He had produced a 14-win season, while leading the Rockies in innings pitched. Then a testicular cancer diagnosis changed everything. On Nov. 29, Bettis had surgery to remove a testicle. He recovered as planned, talking optimistically about his potential during the team's winter caravan. A routine checkup on March 10 clobbered Bettis. The cancer had spread, leaving him to undergo nine weeks of aggressive chemotherapy and placing his season on pause.
Bettis absorbed the news, then pushed forward. Talk to him for a few minutes and the transformation is jarring. He has gone from patient to pitcher.
"I felt with my body that the strength was always there when I came back and joined the club in June. And then I realized that my lungs and stamina weren’t there. So that was my goal to try and get those back in order to breathe better and recover," Bettis explained. "I would say probably the last 10 days is the best I have felt in terms of running and conditioning and recovery-wise. I feel great. I can honestly say I feel back to normal."
A timetable never applied to Bettis. His health was the issue, not baseball. But the mound features a gravitational pull. For Bettis, it represents a personal goal, but more importantly an opportunity to help his teammates.
"That's a good question," said Bettis when asked why be believes he will pitch for the Rockies this season. "I would say that some of it has to do simply with the fact that I want to prove I can do it. At the same time, I want to be there with my brothers and get into the playoffs. That's the big drive."
Bettis will keep options open on his journey back. He is preparing to start in the minor leagues. However, he closed in college and has relief experience in the pros.
"It's easier to lengthen out then shorten up rather than do it the other way around," Bettis said. "I am just excited to get back out there to go from there."
Looking back, Bettis credited his faith, family, wife Kristina and the birth of daughter Everleigh Rae for steering his recovery. Fatherhood, he explained, brought calm and clarity.
"The first six days of the treatment were really hard Monday through Friday. And then that Tuesday she was born. It was really hard until she was born. Then everything got really easy," Bettis said. "Our perspective changed from, 'How are you feeling to how is she doing, and how is my wife Kristina doing?' I kind of liked that. Instead of it being, 'How are you doing?' The focus changed. It’s already been three months and how time flies by. Honestly, it's hard to put it all into words."