Angels' Brogna hopes talking about testicular cancer will help others

BY foxsports • June 14, 2015

One month ago, Rico Brogna, the Angels player-information coach, was in a Connecticut hospital when his phone started blowing up.

It was Mike Trout. And David Freese. And Kole Calhoun. And on and on, text messages of support and well wishes poured in from his Angels family. It was 10 minutes before an Angels game, and Brogna was getting ready to watch on his laptop.

Players had just found out where Brogna, a former Major League Baseball player, had been the last few days.

Brogna kept the news to himself until he sent a text message to Collin Cowgill, the player he is closest to on the team since he managed Cowgill at Double A Mobile (Ala.) in 2010. Cowgill immediately let his teammates know Brogna was about to have surgery for testicular cancer.

The support meant everything to Brogna, who became emotional.

"I lost it," Brogna said. "Guys were wondering where I was. I told C.C., 'you can tell them so they know I'm all right.' Within minutes my phone was beeping off the hook Freesey. Trouty. Kole. The coaching staff and front office. I didn't want to be the focus. 'You guys are playing in 10 minutes. don't worry about me. I'm all right.' But this is your family. When something like that happens it becomes real. It's always there. There's a team bond. When one of your guys is not right, everyone rallies. I was so thankful.

"I was starting to cry and my wife (Melissa) was like, 'what's the matter? Are you having a moment?' I said they were all texting me."

Brogna had successful surgery and was surrounded by his wife, 17-year-old daughter, Alex and 12-year-old sonm Hunter. They all helped in his recovery. And soon he was back with the Angels last week on their roadtrip in Tampa.

It's been about six weeks since he found out he had cancer, and Brogna is grateful to be back in his Angels uniform, throwing a baseball around and walking around the field.

June is men's health awareness month, and Brogna has a good prognosis and outlook. And a new mission to help others.

"The awareness factor," Brogna said of what his message is to other men. "We (men) have a guard up, generally speaking. A feeling of, 'I can push through and invincibility or whatever you want to call it.' Also, I was afraid of bad news. I was afraid. I thought something wasn't right, and I didn't want to hear it. I didn't want to worry my family. You don't want to burden anybody else."

The 45-year-old Brogna, who  played for five MLB teams, never wanted to be the center of attention, either. And when he found a growth, he told no one. He didn't have much pain or other symptoms, so he figured it would go away. About six weeks later, after it hadn't gone away, he told Angels trainer Adam Nevala when the team was in San Francisco in May. A doctor's appointment was made, an ultrasound was done and then came the call that he had cancer and would need surgery. He flew home to Connecticut the next day.

"When you see someone Rico's age there's no doubt you look in the mirror and look at things a little closer," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "How important he is to us, it's great to have him back. He's really good at what he does. On a personal level, he's a friend, and when friends struggle, you all feel it and you're with him every step of the way."

Said Jered Weaver: "I didn't really find out. He was kind of keeping it to himself for a while. When we find out when we were on the road we were kind of devastated about it. He's a strong person. He got through it. It was awesome to see him come back. He's a big part of what we try to accomplish on the field. He's a great baseball mind. He loves to give anybody any information they want. Obviously, it's a scary thing to go through. We're glad to see him back. Hopefully, he stays healthy."

His situation is still fresh, but he's focused on helping others as well. Initially, he didn't want to cause any "drama," and wanted players to be the story. Usually, Trout and Albert Pujols and Garrett Richards make headlines. But this time, it was Brogna's turn, and he had a chance to use his experience to hopefully benefit others.

The Angels already had a scheduled men's health awareness night for Monday against the Diamondbacks. Brogna's condition wasn't known at the time, but his story is a perfect example about being aware about your body and any changes.

He didn't figure he'd be out in front of a campaign, but he's sure happy to help in whatever way he can.

"Rico is the antithesis of a guy who wants to be in the spotlight," Scioscia said. "He wants to just do his job. He loves the game. He's really good at what he does. I think he sees this as an opportunity, like Rick Sutcliffe (who had cancer). There's lot guys who had issues who are given publicity for the right reasons. I think that's a great thing."

Brogna has been through much in his 45 years. This was just the latest health issue he's had to deal with. He played his major league career with Ankylosing Spondylitis, an arthritic condition. He had his second knee replacement to years ago. He's lost track of all the surgeries he's had on ankles knees, shoulders and more.

He wasn't worried about the surgery, just the results. And those came in good. His cancer was contained to one spot, so he needed no radiation or chemotherapy. He'll need scans to monitor his situation every few months.

And it will always be on his mind. He didn't want to shelve his experience, even though he was hesitant.

"The main thing after I thought about it and was coming to grips with the situation, was 'OK, maybe this is an opportunity, even if it helps one person,' " Brogna said. "Initially, that's not my first focus but soon after when I was into the routine and my prognosis going forward and what the doctor said, I thought that maybe somewhere out there there's someone this might benefit by talking about it.

"I'm in the public spotlight somewhat being a Major League Baseball coach. People read what's going on and they follow their team if it's the Angels. I was definitely willing and wanting to talk about it. First, how thankful I was for the support staff, the Angels family, my family, my faith. Maybe somewhere out there someone might get something checked right away instead of doing what I did. Fortunately, I didn't wait too long. I waited a long time. I just want to help people if there's an opportunity to do so."

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