MESA, AZ - As a pitcher, Taylor Kaczmarek has a good enough fastball to get drafted by a major league baseball team last month. But he's still coping with the curveball life has thrown at him.
The 20-year-old Mesa resident was diagnosed with children's leukemia in late May. He hopes to resume his baseball career now that he's been released as a patient from the Mayo Clinic in northeast Phoenix.
Doctors have told Kaczmarek that by completing a series of intensive rounds of chemotherapy, the leukemia now is in remission. He will undergo follow-up checkups the next five years to monitor his progress.
"I'm worn out, but I think there are better days ahead," Kaczmarek said told The East Valley Tribune. "You have to be mentally prepared for something like this. The mind is a powerful thing. If your mind is prepared, you can get through it. You just have to take it one day at a time."
Kaczmarek was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 40th round after playing for South Mountain Community College the last two years.
About two months ago after Kaczmarek came down with a sore foot, his doctor told him that he had tendonitis.
Kaczmarek said doing a simple task such as walking made him sore and when he went back to the doctor, a blood clot was discovered in his leg, causing him to be placed on blood thinners.
Later, Kaczmarek noticed that his lymph nodes were swollen. It initially was thought that he had mono, but after having blood work done at Banner hospitals, the test results came back as abnormal.
He was out running errands the day he received the phone call about the test results and that he needed to come into Banner's emergency room immediately. He was admitted to Mayo on May 27 and was there for a month.
After Kaczmarek was diagnosed with leukemia, he fell to the draft's lower rounds. However, the Royals remain committed to him as Kaczmarek weighs his options of whether to sign with the Royals or play baseball at the University of San Diego in the fall, spring or maybe next year.
Kaczmarek underwent 12 rounds of chemotherapy but did stomach "crunches" in his bed. To keep the strength in his legs and balance of his upper body, he did "lunges" in the hallway near his room, squatting while carrying weights across his shoulders.
Through it all, he only lost 20 pounds off his 220-pound, 6 foot, 2-inch frame and claims he didn't lose any hair. He also kept his appetite and his desire to return to the baseball and not take things for granted.
"It kind of made my outlook on life change in knowing what's important," Kaczmarek said. "This is something that has caused me not to take things for granted and realize what's important in life. I've always loved my family and friends, but now more so."
While at Desert Ridge High School, Kazcmarek played on back-to-back state championship teams in 2009 and 2010.
As a pitcher and outfielder at South Mountain Community College, he batted .350, hit two home runs, had 40 RBIs and had a 6-5 record on the mound with 96 strikeouts and a 2.30 ERA.
"He's a great kid," said Desert Ridge coach Pat Herrera. "He always was a pretty big kid, and always pretty serious about baseball. If he struck out, he wore it on his sleeve. He risked a lot because he invested so much."
About 600 people attended a recent benefit for Kaczmarek in Tempe and more benefits are being scheduled in the future to help him with hospital bills while insurance coverage is being sorted out. Although Kazczmarek was given the same medications and doses used to treat children's leukemia, his insurance carrier is contending his treatments were experimental and may not cover some of his medical bills.
"My main goal remains the same as it was before," Kaczmarek said. "And that's to play Big League ball."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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