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Woody Paige: Rockies pitcher Chad Bettis enjoying the little things spring training offers

March 2, 2018 Updated: March 3, 2018 at 8:51 am
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Colorado Rockies' Chad Bettis stands at first against the Atlanta Braves during the third inning of a baseball game Monday, Aug. 14, 2017, in Denver. (Ap Photo/Jack Dempsey)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - The sensations of sight, sound, smell seem so stirring at The Stick in the spring.

See a baseball game; hear the pop of the mitt, the thwack of the bat, the "strike" squawk of the umpire, the barking of "Ice-Cold Beer Here", and smell the aromas of polish sausage, kettle corn, cheesesteak and freshly-moved grass.

Is this heaven?

No, it's Salt River Fields Forever - a amalgamation of Utopia, Eden, Shangri-La. It's Mesa on a cool, cloudless Thursday, and, on Friday, it's an immaculate Scottsdale setting that belonged on a Monet watercolor. The Rockies vs. the Cubs one afternoon, the Rox and the D'Backs the next.

The Major League commissioner seeks to speed up the pace of play. Yet, at these two spring-training exhibitions, time stands stationary, and we love it. Take us out to the ball game, we don't care if we ever get back. (The game lasted over 3½ hours Friday.)

Chad Bettis was savoring all the senses when he approached the mound at 1 p.m. The Rockies' starting pitching extended the moment to gaze around Talking Stick and take in the sights, the sounds, the smells. He hadn't pitched at the park since one two-inning stint last spring.

Bettis induces four of the first five Diamondbacks into puny bouncers to second baseman Shawn O'Malley. After a scoreless second for Arizona, Bettis had a 0.0 ERA over four innings of spring ball.

However, in the third inning, the bases were crammed like a CrackerJack box, and Jake Lamb buried a ball in the slope beyond right-field. Bettis departed after allowing the not-so-grand slam.

"He pitched well the first two innings, then got the ball up in the third, especially to Lamb. Chad just had some location problems," manager Bud Black said.

It was, nevertheless, a great day at the ballpark for Bettis - considering.

A year ago, this week, an oncologist here diagnosed that Bettis' testicular cancer, which a month earlier had been pronounced cured, had spread to his lymph nodes.

He was scheduled to start a game the next night. Rather, he soon started nine weeks of chemotherapy.

One medical authority told me at the time he believed Bettis' rocky, Rockies career was over.

At 28, Bettis couldn't draw a lucky breath.

Then, on Aug. 4, 2017, after being informed he was cancer-free, Bettis returned to the mound in Denver and didn't permit a run over seven innings.

With that astonishing comeback, Bettis was named the recipient of baseball's Tony Conigliaro Award.

This is a story that begs for a happy ending, such as: Bettis wins 20 games and the Cy Young in 2018, or Bettis pitches the opening game of the World Series, or, maybe, Bettis lives happy and healthy the rest of his long life with his wife Kristina and daughter Everleigh Rae.

Bettis, who turns 29 next month, has been in the Rockies' organization since begin drafted in the second round (76th) out of Texas Tech in the 2010 draft. He was on the express track after two solid A ball seasons (18-6).

Then, shoulder surgery shelved Chad the entire 2012 season.

Upon that first comeback the next year, Bettis got a sniff of The Show with eight starters. But the Rox powers, for some silly reason, converted him to reliever in 2014, and Bettis was powerless in 21 games with a 0-2 mark and a 9.12 ERA.

He was sent down the road, literally, to the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.

Recast in the role in which he belonged, as a starting pitcher, Bettis didn't give up a run in seven innings in a start, finished 3-4 with an impressive 3.09 ERA. Back up I-25 in 2015, Bettis went 8-6.

His breakout season was 2016 - a 14-8 record (in 32 starts and 186 innings). He was on a trajectory to be an ace.

A month after the season Chad learned he had cancer.

After being removed Friday Bettis, whose salary has jumped from $565,000 to $2 million, bolted the clubhouse, not because he was mad, but to attend to a personal matter.

A few of us remained for the duration to revel in the Rockies' eventual 15-6 victory following a 9-5 Rox rout in the previous exhibition between the division antagonists. But these are meaningless in comparison to the Rockies' ugh, ugly 11-8 playoff defeat to the Snakes in the Desert in '17.

Repeat postseason game? The strange bedfellows at Salt River Fields like the smell, sight and sound of it.

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