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Kruk's message to Pirates' Taillon: Don't rush back from cancer treatments

Rob Biertempfel
| Tuesday, May 9, 2017, 3:12 p.m.
Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon delivers during the first inning against the Yankees Sunday, March 5, 2017, at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon delivers during the first inning against the Yankees Sunday, March 5, 2017, at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla.
Former Philadelphia Phillies' John Kruk, left, looks on with Darren Daulton, right, as they appear for Pat Burrell induction onto the Phillies' Wall of Fame prior to the first inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Friday, July 31, 2015, in Philadelphia. The Phillies won 9-3. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Former Philadelphia Phillies' John Kruk, left, looks on with Darren Daulton, right, as they appear for Pat Burrell induction onto the Phillies' Wall of Fame prior to the first inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Friday, July 31, 2015, in Philadelphia. The Phillies won 9-3. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Being around his Philadelphia Phillies teammates helped John Kruk recover after having surgery for testicular cancer in 1994. However, Kruk admits he made a mistake by rushing back to play.

“I was actually getting treatments in the morning and then playing that night, which was really, really stupid,” Kruk said. “That was probably the dumbest thing I've ever done because it wore me out. It was draining.”

When Kruk heard Pirates right-hander Jameson Taillon had surgery for suspected testicular cancer Monday, Kruk gave his phone number to manager Clint Hurdle to pass along to Taillon.

“It's a difficult thing to talk about, but it's (easier with) a peer or someone who's on the same profession,” Kruk said during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.

When he first heard about Taillon, Kruk was texting with Chad Bettis of the Colorado Rockies. Bettis had surgery for testicular cancer in November. In March, Bettis began chemotherapy after his cancer unexpectedly spread.

“I hope Chad, Jameson and others (like them) take their time and make sure they're 100 percent strong and ready to go instead of trying to rush back,” Kruk said. “This is not one of those things where the team comes first.”

Kruk was diagnosed during spring training in 1994, after he was injured by an errant pickoff throw by Phillies reliever Mitch Williams.

On March 8, Kruk had surgery to remove his cancerous testicle. Thirty-five days later, he talked his way into the lineup against the Rockies.

“I had my doctor call (general manager) Lee Thomas and (manager) Jim Fregosi on the day of our home opener,” Kruk said.

Kruk went 3 for 5 in his first game back. Though he needed extra treatments when the cancer spread to his stomach, Kruk played in 75 games that season and batted .302 with a .823 OPS.

“Being in a major league clubhouse was a big help for me,” said Kruk, who retired in 1995. “There was good-natured ribbing and joking, as you'd expect when you're in a place full of male testosterone and that's the topic. The guys in our clubhouse can say anything they want because they're my family, my brothers. It was kind of a healing thing for me.”

Kruk didn't find it funny, though, when the jeers came from the bleachers.

“There's always that one fan who might not like you for some reason or who thinks he's funny or whatever,” Kruk said. “That's what (honked) me off more than anything. These are the difficult things I hope that guys like Jameson and Chad don't have to go through.”

Even 23 years later, Kruk sometimes is targeted.

“I had a guy on Twitter who was being really derogatory towards me” Kruk said. “I said to him, if your mother had breast cancer and had to have her breasts removed, would you make fun of her? People on Twitter just annihilated this guy.”

If there was more awareness of testicular cancer, Kruk said, it wouldn't be treated as a laughing matter. He and former Florida Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell, who was diagnosed with the disease in 1999, are thinking about putting together a charity golf tournament.

“I'd love to do one in Denver for Chad and one in Pittsburgh for Jameson,” Kruk said. “Every year, a different venue in a different city so we can bring awareness to the entire country.”

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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