Geer stays strong during fight with cancer
Pitcher in Padres system confident he'll pitch again
This is not where Josh Geer is supposed to be: stretched out on the couch at his home in Forney, Texas, where baseball is only played on television and on replays in his mind, an endless loop of games he's pitched in dancing through his head.
He's not supposed to be visiting his grandparents, either, or even playing with his 5-year-old twin cousins and their 3-year-old sister. And Geer is surely not supposed to be in the backyard of his parents' house playing with the family dog, Hank, a 9-year-old German Shepherd.
Not in May at least. And certainly not during baseball season.
"It's really weird. This is the first time I've been home in I can't think of how long," Geer said. "I'm pretty much bored to death here. I'm still watching baseball and trying to keep myself occupied. I'm trying to stay sane somehow.
"But it's baseball season. I want to be out there."
Instead, Geer, who made 22 starts with the Padres from 2008-09 and is still a pitcher in their Minor League system, is back in Texas recovering from surgery he had three weeks ago to remove lymph nodes from his neck, the result of being diagnosed with Stage III melanoma, a type of skin cancer.
"It turned out it was good ... [the melanoma] stayed in that one lymph node, and it wasn't in the others around it," said Geer, who next week will begin a year-long treatment program designed to eradicate potential pre-cancerous cells.
Geer, who will turn 28 on June 2, can't say for certain what the future holds for him, in terms of his health or where baseball fits into the equation. It's far too soon to tell.
Whereas Geer's professional life once followed a very regimented routine -- taking the ball for a start every fifth day, and the preparation that leads up to each start -- he now searches for ways to fill his day, ways to keep his mind off his health.
"I think the main thing for me was I was mad that this has taken me away from pitching," Geer said. "I love being around the guys. That's the worst thing about all of this."
In the past, Geer has had a history with moles and actually had one removed from his right cheek in the offseason, one doctors now believe might have drained into his lymph node. Still, Geer didn't see any of this coming.
"I noticed that I had a little knot on my neck in January, sort of between my neck and my shoulder. I just figured I would get it checked out in Spring Training," Geer said. "You couldn't even see it unless you ran your hand over it."
Once Geer arrived in Arizona for Spring Training in March, he pointed out the lump to the training staff. He then underwent a scan.
"It came back as a swollen lymph node," Geer said. "So they wanted to be 100 percent sure it was not lymphoma. When the tests for that came back, it showed there were cancerous melanoma cells in it. That wasn't good."
That set off a whirlwind of events that coincided with the start of the season, where Geer was a member of the starting rotation for the Padres' Triple-A affiliate in Tucson, Ariz. Geer made starts for Tucson on April 9 and April 14, each time going about his business even though he knew surgery was imminent.
"When we were in Colorado Springs, I think he already knew that it could be something. We were asking him how he was doing ... if he was nervous," said Tucson pitcher Greg Burke, also a close friend. "But he just went out there like it was no big deal. That's how he is, though. He's carefree."
A day after that April 14 start, Geer took a flight to San Diego, where he had tests done at the Scripps Clinic on April 15 and again on April 18. Finally, on April 21, Geer had surgery to remove the lymph node with melanoma and eight surrounding lymph nodes to ensure the melanoma hadn't breached them.
"Then they closed me up," Geer said, matter of factly, "... with 25 staples down my neck."
On Thursday, Geer will meet with doctors in Dallas to plan the next step of treatment, called Interferon alfa-2B, which will stimulate the immune system to fight against cancer cells. According to the Stanford School of Medicine, Interferon alfa-2B will also help to regulate the reproduction of cancerous cells.
|"I think the main thing for me was I was mad that this has taken me away from pitching. I love being around the guys. That's the worst thing about all of this."|
|-- Josh Geer|
Geer's treatment -- he calls it "light chemotherapy" -- will be conducted intravenously, and he will be injected five days a week for the first month. He'll then receive three shots a week for the next 11 months.
"We're staying positive. I've got a lot of people praying for me," said Geer, who said he's thankful to the Padres organization for its support and assistance throughout his ordeal.
As for sharing details of what he's going through with his teammates, Geer has been reluctant to do so, mostly because he doesn't want anyone feeling sorry for him. But Geer knows that he has a lot of support.
"It's tough to hear about anyone you know going through any of this, especially someone in your inner circle," said Tucson pitcher Wade LeBlanc, a teammate and friend of Geer's. "During the season, these guys are pretty much your family.
"But of all the guys I've played with, if someone has the attitude to take this on and to beat it, it's Josh. I've never seen him get too high and too low, no matter what's going on in his life or baseball."
For the longest time, Geer's life was centered around baseball. It's what landed him on the radar of the Padres and led the team to select him with their third-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft out of Houston's Rice University. There was a lot to like about Geer, and the Padres felt he could move quickly through their system.
"I saw him three times that spring," said Bill Gayton, the former director of scouting for the Padres. "He was aggressive ... pitched inside with the fastball and had good makeup. He was not someone who was going to be overwhelmed."
By his second full season in 2007, Geer had advanced to Double-A San Antonio, where he was named the Texas League Pitcher of the Year and the Padres' Minor League Pitcher of the Year after going 16-6 with a 3.20 ERA.
"He attacked the strike zone and could throw his changeup in any count," said San Diego third baseman Chase Headley, who was a teammate of Geer's that season. "He wasn't overpowering, but when he was pitching, you got a sense that he knew what he was doing."
Geer spent nearly the entire 2008 season with Triple-A Portland before he earned a late-season promotion as the Padres -- who, by that time, were well on their way to losing 99 games -- decided to see what he could do.
On Aug. 30, Geer made his Major League debut in a start at PETCO Park against the Rockies on a 71-degree night. Geer outpitched an erratic Ubaldo Jimenez, who had five walks and a wild pitch in 3 2/3 innings as Geer went on to win his debut.
|"That was always my goal to get up and play in the big leagues. I was able to do that again. Just getting that taste of it and getting sent down ... for me, I think I might want it worse than ever before."|
|-- Josh Geer|
"My adrenaline was pumping early," Geer said that night.
Geer began the 2009 season back in Portland, but was recalled on April 19, when Walter Silva went on the disabled list. Geer scrambled to get to Philadelphia in time for a start the next day against the Phillies.
"I got called up the night before, and I remember that being one of my best starts of that year," Geer said. "I remember facing that lineup, and at home. I was like, 'OK, here we go.' But I just pitched the way I do and it turned out OK. I felt great that day."
Facing a lineup that included Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez -- three hitters who would combine for 110 home runs and 327 RBIs that season for a team that went on to play in the World Series -- Geer opened the game with five shutout innings, pounding the strike zone with his sinker while mixing in a changeup that danced in the warm air.
"I felt great that day," Geer recalled.
Geer allowed two runs (one earned) over seven innings and left with a 4-2 lead that the Padres' bullpen squandered, as the Phillies won, 5-4, on a walk-off home run.
That start in Philadelphia remains one of Geer's most cherished memories from his time in the Major Leagues, and remains one of his best starts.
Geer struggled thereafter, though, allowing 27 home runs in 102 2/3 innings that summer to join Andy Benes (Cardinals, 2001) as one of two pitchers in National League history to allow 25 or more home runs in one season while pitching fewer than 110 innings.
Jettisoned from the 40-man roster, Geer spent all of last season in Portland, going 11-11 with a 5.41 ERA in 29 games. He was dependable, taking the ball every fifth day, which is partly why so much down time and lack of routine now is so insufferable for him.
Geer has remained in touch with his teammates, mostly LeBlanc, Burke and trainer Wade Yamasaki. Geer has taken to tormenting his teammates by poking fun at their travel travails, those 4 a.m. wake-up calls on the road, food -- anything he can think of.
"That's the one thing I don't miss right now," Geer said.
But there is a lot to miss for Geer, from the competition to the camaraderie and everything else that falls in between -- the things you don't think about as they're happening, but things that pop up when baseball is taken from you.
Geer isn't certain when he'll pitch again, though he's certain he will.
"That was always my goal -- to get up and play in the big leagues. I was able to do that again," Geer said. "Just getting that taste of it and getting sent down ... for me, I think I might want it worse than ever before."