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I am 55 years old and I still like to go out and play.

Until this winter, good health and good fortune were always on my side. I felt very lucky.

I am weaker lately. Not so sure on my feet. Tire more easily.

Enter cancer.

We could go on about the specifics, but I would rather not. In fact, no more mention of the c-word from now on. Writer's prerogative.

This is a comeback story. At least my own modest attempt at one. I am trying to remain connected to the sports that have given me years upon years of enjoyment and forged many friendships.

I know I still need sports in this new chapter of my life even when it feels like sports don't need me. It's the great escape. Twenty-six years on the Star Tribune sports copy desk have helped teach me that.

This comeback story, it's a work in progress.

Take basketball. Right now I must settle for shooting hoops in the park instead of playing noon pickup games once or twice a week. My specialty was making the perfect backdoor cut and then blowing the easy layup.

Some of the guys I have known for nearly 25 years (Big Steve, Little Steve, Vince, Jim, Jon, Pat, Mark) and I miss the banter as much as the ball. It hurt like hell to tell them I wouldn't be coming around for a while, if not ever again.

Sigh.

On the golf course, lately I take a cart instead of walk, maybe play nine holes instead of 18, and accept that I've lost a few more yards on my shot — a figure that was already heading south without any extra assistance.

My first time out this spring was a flop. It was a cold, damp, overcast weekday morning in May. Under normal circumstances, as a seasoned Minnesotan, that wouldn't have mattered to me. You're just happy to be outside and doing your best to urge spring along. But these days the tips of my fingers don't react well to cold — a nagging but necessary side effect to medication.

Wearing gloves on both hands, I lasted one hole with my tingly digits. On the second hole, I shanked three straight tee shots and called it a day.

For all my good intentions, I was just too miserable. So as my work buddies Brian and Brian of the Nightsider Golf Tour played on, I retraced the first fairway, grabbed a rain check and warmed up in the pro shop, made the short drive home and sadly went back to bed.

Double sigh.

. . .

Pete Steinert, Star Tribune sports copy editor.
Pete Steinert, Star Tribune sports copy editor.

Star Tribune

But alas, the pursuit goes on. It's June now, baseball season.

My 50-and-over team, the Apple Valley Cardinals, had its season opener on a recent Sunday. Win or lose (usually more of the latter), we have a blast playing around the Twin Cities and sometimes farther out in cool small-town parks. Everybody plays, everybody hits, everybody takes their Advil. I adore this team.

There are two Petes on the roster, and we have come to be known as Pete3 (that's me) and Pete4 by way of our uniform numbers. A silly yet perfect workaround that could only come with quality dugout time.

I was in uniform that Sunday against the Crystal Cubs, waiting for the right opportunity to get in the game, however briefly. Until then, I was enjoying my teammates' company and, with the shrinkage of my waistline, hoping to keep my pants from falling around my ankles. I got an at-bat late in an 8-4 victory. On the second pitch I saw — and first swing I took — I hit a sharp ground ball to second base that turned into an easy double play. It was wonderful.

If nothing else, I understand this: There is hope even within the realm of new limitations. You learn to truly count your blessings.

You get ready for the next pitch.

. . .

When I became sick, I picked a baseball book off my shelf. Rereading about Pudge Fisk's Game 6 walkoff home run in the 1975 World Series was a far better alternative than staring at the walls on a cold night. From there I watched that same Red Sox-Reds game on YouTube (Game 7, too); and that led to watching more postseason baseball classics from my childhood; and that led to long telephone chats with my buddy Jon, whom I have known since we were T-ball teammates in suburban Detroit. Time well spent.

When I think about how my life has changed, I do get mad, and down. But everywhere you look there are heroes out there for those vulnerable moments. Many of them far, far too young.

A Sports Illustrated article on the late Gabe Grunewald hangs inside my cubicle at work. I recently read up on MLB player Trey Mancini, the latest on Casey O'Brien and the recent death of college basketball player Justin Hardy. If you don't know who these people are, you should. They will blow you away. They just wanted to keep playing, too.

So I keep moving, continuing the fight. You can never stop trying.

You get ready for the next pitch.

Pete Steinert is a Star Tribune copy editor and for most of his quarter-century in the sports department has been the Sunday Sports section editor. He lives in South Minneapolis. Email him at psteinert@startribune.com.