Rangers draw love, inspiration from coach Tony Beasley’s health battle

Courtesy of Kelly Galvin, Texas Rangers

SURPRISE, Az. – A little more than a year ago, when the Texas Rangers met before their first full workout of spring training, third base coach Tony Beasley made a shocking announcement.

Beasley, 50, staggered the players and staff by informing them that he recently had been diagnosed with rectal cancer  — and further stunned the room by saying that in his mind, he already had beaten the disease.

It was not false bravado — Beasley says his confidence stemmed from his strong Christian faith. His words, though, also were the product of a man whom Rangers general manager Jon Daniels describes as “a too-good-to-be-true human being.”

“You name a positive personality trait, and Tony’s got it,” Daniels says. “He handled it with such grace and dignity. It blew everyone away.”

One year later, Beasley is back with the Rangers, back after a taxing journey of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, back in the third-base coaching box where he makes a measurable difference, back in the clubhouse where he dispenses both tough love and pure joy.

Beasley’s recovery is a testament not only to his faith and strength, but also to the power of a franchise to rally around one of its own — and the ability of a man to inspire those around him during his most difficult days.

Beasley had the support of his wife, Stacy, and his son, Tony Jr., 22, a senior at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. He had the support from every corner of the Rangers’ organization, too.

Former Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder, who would retire Aug. 10 after a second spinal-fusion surgery, reached out often to commiserate with Beasley. Third baseman Adrian Beltre, second baseman Rougned Odor and first baseman Mitch Moreland also checked in regularly, as did Daniels and Beasley’s close friend of more than two decades, Rangers manager Jeff Banister.

“It would always give me a boost, to still feel connected to the team,” Beasley says.

Jamie Reed, the Rangers’ senior director of medical operations, would drive Beasley to chemotherapy during spring training, with the coach affectionately calling him, “Wife two.”

Rangers owners Ray Davis and Neil Leibman arranged for Beasley to receive his radiation at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and to fly back and forth by private jet.

Beasley responded so well to both chemotherapy and radiation that he remained an intermittent presence around the club, though he could not do much on the field.

Before he began chemo, doctors surgically implanted a port in his right pectoral for him to directly receive an IV; part of his chemo included a 48-hour drip every other week, and the pump was attached to a sling he wore around his waist.

For a time after his surgery in August, he had to wear an ostomy bag to collect waste from his small intestine. During both periods, he could not risk any of the apparatus coming loose due to physical strain.

At that first meeting of spring training, Beasley had no idea he was going to speak, recalling that Banister put him on the spot. But the message Beasley delivered that day was clear.

“I challenged them to win each day,” Beasley says. “I knew for me to get through what I had to go through, I had to win each day. I couldn’t look back. I couldn’t look too far ahead. I had to focus on each day, decide to have a good day, to have good energy, to be upbeat, to believe.”

The Rangers made T-shirts in tribute to their ailing coach, T-shirts that served as a mission statement for their season.

The T-shirts said, “Win your day.”

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Longtime friends with manager

Beasley was with the Rangers in Kansas City in July, between the completion of his radiation and chemotherapy and his surgery in August. He was taking his daily walk with Banister — their “old-man walk,” the manager calls it. And Banister was airing him out about some recent errors by Odor, even though Beasley had been away from the team.

“In my mind, I was like, ‘What’s wrong with him?’” Beasley recalls thinking, not about Odor, but about Banister. “Doesn’t he know what I’m dealing with?’”

Banister did know, all too well. His recoveries from physical hardship are practically legend.

As a sophomore in high school, he was diagnosed with bone cancer in his left leg, and underwent seven operations after doctors told him the leg might need to be amputated. He also was paralyzed from the neck down for 10 days after being involved in a home-plate collision while catching in junior college. His three shattered vertebrae required three more operations, and in the process he lost nearly 100 pounds.

Banister 53, would recover to play again, beating out a grounder for a hit in his only major-league plate appearance with the Pirates in 1991. He became friendly with Beasley in ‘93 when they were teammates with the Pirates’ Double A affiliate, the Carolina Mudcats. Their careers intersected over the years; they even lived in the same house on several occasions. When the Rangers named Banister manager in 2015, he took only one coach from the outside — his longtime cohort, Beasley.

With the Rangers, Beasley serves as Banister’s sounding board, but he also reminds the manager to check himself on occasion – if, for example, Banister reacts too intensely to a situation.

“He will post me up, say, ‘hey bro, look, you need to be better today. Get over it and move on,’” Banister explains.

Their roles, however, reversed after Beasley was diagnosed. Banister felt obligated to deliver tough messages to his friend that others would not.

“I just felt like he needed somebody in his life who wasn’t going to just tell him, ‘Everything’s going to be OK,’” Banister recalls. “There needs to be a fighter in you. And you need to fight from the beginning. Because there are days when you are not going to want to fight.”

Banister says he cried at times thinking about Beasley, knowing their children had grown up together, knowing their wives were close. There also were times during games when he would look out at the third-base coaching box and miss his old friend — no offense to Beasley’s replacement, Spike Owen.

After Beasley was first diagnosed, Banister recalled a nurse who snapped him to attention when he was a teenager feeling sorry for himself as he went through cancer. He recalled that he was heading in the wrong direction mentally. And he wanted to make sure that would not happen to happen to Beasley and his family.

The process started in spring training.

“There were days I challenged Tony and probably worked him harder than I should have,” Banister says. “At one point, he finally goes, ‘Brother, why? Why are you doing this? You’re kind of being hard on me.’ I said, ‘Yeah. Because you haven’t faced hard yet.’”

In July, a few days after their run-in over Odor, Banister acknowledged again to Beasley that he was being tough on him. Beasley responded, “Yeah. And I don’t get it.” And Banister explained that he was simply challenging Beasley to put his mind in other places.

Through it all, Beasley barely wavered physically from the chemo and radiation, losing only about 10 pounds. Doctors told him that he was a “poster child” for fighting off symptoms from the treatment. Daniels says that Beasley, through his upbeat demeanor, “put on a clinic” for how to handle a terrifying experience. And Banister kept shooting Beasley straight.

“That’s the beautiful thing about our relationship -– we can be realistic with each other,” Beasley says. “You need people like that in your life who can challenge you, tell you things, push you.’”

Once a coach, always a coach

Even while undergoing chemo, Beasley pushed others -– specifically Joey Gallo, the Rangers’ slugging prospect who is still trying to establish himself as a major leaguer.

Beasley says that Daniels and Banister originated the idea for Gallo to accompany Beasley to chemotherapy. Gallo says that he and Beasley already had discussed it. In any case, Gallo tagged along with Beasley to a session last March for precisely the reason you might imagine.

To gain perspective.

“For me, it was eye-opening; I had never been to a chemo session like that,” Gallo recalls. “We walked in there, and a lot of people were pretty down on their luck. It was pretty sad. But he came in, and he was just like a bright spot to everybody. He was smiling, laughing, making everyone happy to be there — or at least have some fun in a situation like that.”

Gallo did not take batting practice that day, did not field balls off a fungo, did not play in a game. His sole assignment was to spend 3½ hours watching Beasley receive his chemo (Rangers reliever Tanner Scheppers later accompanied Beasley to a different session).

“I wasn’t the only person in that room,” Beasley recalls. “There were about 17 others. What I wanted Joey to see was how your response to things is your responsibility. Life is 10 percent what happens, 90 percent how you deal with it. I wanted him to understand those things.

“I said, ‘Look around this room. What did you see?’ He really didn’t know how to answer that. I said, ‘These people are fighting. They’re fighting for their lives.’ I said, ‘Do you think any of these people care about hitting a baseball or dealing with the scrutiny, people doubting you, not believing in you, your own frustrations that you create in your mind?’ All these people want to do is get through this treatment, have it hopefully be effective, and have some quality of life.’”

At one point, Beasley says, Gallo asked him, “How do you do it? How do you come to work every day with the attitude you have?”

“Joey, it’s a choice. I’ve made a choice,” Beasley responded. “I could stay home. I could not come to the ballpark. I could lay on my bed and say I’m sick. But I’ve decided to get up and move and live life.”

Beasley’s overall message — “This is real. This is reality. This is more important than what we do every day.” — still resonates with Gallo, and probably always will.

“All most of us know is just baseball: Wake up, go to the field, go home,” Gallo says. “We don’t really see everything going on in the world that most people see. He just kind of wanted me to be thankful for what we do for a living . . . to see another side of life.”

A poignant celebration

Of course, the signals went both ways.

Beasley needs to only recall two moments if he needs a reminder of just how much he means to the Rangers.

The first occurred late in September; the Rangers were closing in on their second straight division title when they had to leave Texas for a three-game trip to Oakland.

Beasley wanted to accompany the club, but for once he wasn’t up for it. He needed four more rounds of chemotherapy after his surgery, and the day before the trip he didn’t have the strength to stand in the dugout, retreating to the clubhouse to watch the game on TV.

Banister told his friend to get some rest. Beasley says he watched the clincher by himself at home, shouting and pumping his fists with joy after the final out.

He saw the players celebrate on the field, then retreat to the clubhouse. Moments later, his phone rang. The number belonged to Brandon Boyd, the Rangers’ home clubhouse manager. But the voice was Beltre’s.

The Rangers, through FaceTime, included Beasley in their celebration.

“It just blew me away,” Beasley recalls. “I don’t know how to explain it. I was thinking, ‘This is the greatest moment of the season thus far for these guys. And their first thought was to include me.’

“It was incredible. It chills me up. I’ll never forget that, never, no matter what. I’ll never forget that moment.”

Beasley is an excellent singer, and the Rangers originally planned for him to sing the national anthem for Game 1 of the Division Series. Ultimately, Banister advised against it, wanting to make sure that Beasley did not risk straining his abdomen.

Perhaps such a moment will occur this season; the Rangers, for the second straight year, were upset by the Blue Jays in the Division Series, but Beasley’s recovery continued without interruption.

On Dec. 5, his 50th birthday, he underwent one more surgery, to remove the port from his chest. Cancer-free, he returned to work full-time in mid-January, coaching young infielders at a mini-camp.

“Even though he was not active last year, to see him getting better every day and having that positive mindset, it was unbelievable to see — inspiring for everybody,” Beltre says.

“You see guys complain about stupid stuff, it puts life into perspective. And he’s such a nice guy, now to see him back healthy and ready to go is going to be a boost for the team. Our ballclub really loves him.”

Which brings us full circle, to the second big moment in which the Rangers showed their love for Beasley.

On Feb. 15, the team gathered for its first meeting of spring training. For the second straight year Beasley was a focal point, only for an entirely different reason.

Banister normally asks his coaches to introduce themselves. But this time he introduced Beasley, wanting him to bask in the appreciation of his fellow coaches and the Rangers’ players and front-office staff.

The Rangers greeted Beasley with a standing ovation.

“When he was around last year, he gave us joy when we needed joy. He gave us strength when we needed strength. He gave us the ability to think, ‘You know what? Hey, we may have some tough days, but this ain’t that tough,’” Banister says.

Just win each day. Win every day.