Fighting Irish: Josh Dickerson back in game after cancer battle
While O'Dea marched toward a second consecutive state baseball championship last year, the Irish sophomore had a much bigger fight on his hands.
Seattle Times staff reporter
After losing baseball, a school year and about 20 pounds, Josh Dickerson just wanted to feel better.
His body had been battered with chemotherapy and radiation treatments for close to a year, an attempt to knock out the soft-tissue cancer (rhabdomyosarcoma) in the right side of his jaw. When the treatments ended in August and the cancer went into remission, the 16-year-old set simple goals.
He wanted to get strong enough to hit in the batting cage. He wanted to have the endurance to play a full baseball game. He wanted to be healthy enough to earn a spot on O'Dea's varsity.
He not only made the team, he cracked the starting lineup.
"Even if I don't have a good game, or I don't get hits, or if I make an error, or boot a ball, I keep my head up, because I'm out here," Dickerson said. "If anything went bad last year, I wouldn't be out here."
On a rare sunny Seattle spring afternoon at Judkins Park, with puddles dotting the infield dirt, Dickerson looked back on a lost year.
He stood in the dugout, a flat-brimmed, old-school Tampa Bay Rays hat covering the short hair teammate Dylan Wade had just trimmed. People tell Dickerson his hair is a little thinner and a slightly different color than before, but "I can't really tell," Dickerson said. "I'm just glad I have hair."
Two fake diamond earrings sparkled in the sunlight, accenting a face that filled out as he added weight and strength. He has come a long way, regaining all the weight he lost, plus an additional 10 pounds.
In 2010, while the Irish worked toward their second straight Class 3A state title, Dickerson could barely throw a ball. But he found strength to attend games. He provided inspiration for the Irish, who rallied around the theme "Team Strong."
After his final chemotherapy treatment last August, Dickerson's nurse told him he would probably be too weak to attend classes regularly. But after school started last fall, he missed only one day, for an appointment to make sure the tumor was still shrinking and the cancer remained in remission.
"I haven't felt tired at all, maybe just a little, but I've been able to fight through it," said Dickerson, who is repeating his sophomore year.
Once he purged the cancer, he began to binge on life.
"We always say he lost a year of his life," Dickerson's father, Kiyo, said. "Now it's time to get that back."
Dickerson transitioned back to ballplayer this year.
"It's been an adjustment for everybody, getting back into seeing him as a player and not just as a kid who we are really rooting for, we're praying for on a daily basis," O'Dea coach Mike Doyle said.
There have been moments that show he's on the way back.
There was his first hit, a crisp single between shortstop and third base against Franklin in late March. Kiyo was in the stands and sent his wife, Diana, a text message: "Josh got a hit!!!!"
Diana's one-word response: "YES!!!!!"
In a win against Eastside Catholic, Dickerson went 2 for 3 with four RBI and, in a game last week, teammate Keenan Forch was impressed when Dickerson charged in from third base on a bunt, barehanded the ball and made a strong throw.
"That just showed me that he's back in full stride," Forch said. "He has his body back under him. He's getting stronger."
Dickerson was determined to return.
"I thought I could do it if I worked out a lot and didn't slack off," he said. "I had to work harder than all these guys to get back here."
He is tested every three months — the next one is in June — to make sure the cancer is still in remission. His parents get more nervous than he does. There is too much he wants to accomplish.
"Our life revolved around baseball for the longest time," Kiyo said. "Nowadays, that is like a distant second. His priority is still the same. He still wants to play baseball. He still wants to hang out with his buddies, but as far as we're concerned as parents, we're just happy he's healthy."
Mason Kelley: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.