When Chad Bettis was waging his battle against cancer, his thoughts and prayers centered on getting well for the sake of his wife, Kristina, and his new-born daughter, Everleigh Rae.
Bettis' return as a Rockies starting pitcher was next on his list. The notion of being an inspiration for others came later.
But that's what happened.
Wednesday, the veteran right-hander was selected as the recipient of the 2017 Tony Conigliaro Award. He became the second Rockies player to win the award, joining pitcher Aaron Cook, who was honored in 2005.
“I think being able to be the recipient of this year's award is nothing short of an honor,'' Bettis said. “And I feel like the award goes beyond just myself to the help and encouragement of my family and teammates and the entire Colorado Rockies organization.''
Bettis, 28, was diagnosed with testicular cancer Nov. 21, 2016, receiving the news on his first wedding anniversary. Bettis underwent surgery eight days later and thought he was cancer free. He reported to spring training in shape and eager for the season 2017, but during a check-up in March, doctors discovered that his cancer had spread to his lymph nodes. Bettis underwent nine weeks of chemotherapy, beginning treatment nine days before Kristina gave birth to Everleigh Rae.
Bettis' final cancer treatment came May 16 and after a minor-league rehab stint, he returned to the mound for the Rockies on Aug. 14. He pitched seven scoreless innings against Atlanta and ended up making nine starts. Bettis is expected to be a main cog in Colorado's rotation in 2018.
The Conigliaro Award has been given every year since 1990 in memory of the former Red Sox outfielder, whose career was cut short after a terrifying bean ball to his face in 1967. The award is presented to a “major leaguer who has overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination and courage that were trademarks of Tony C.”
Conigliaro was an emerging star when was struck in the face on Aug. 18, 1967. The pitch fractured his left cheekbone, dislocated his jaw and severely damaged the retina in his left eye. He missed all of the 1968 season, but returned to play two more years in Boston, hitting a career-high 36 home runs for the Red Sox in 1970.
He was traded to the Angels after the 1970 season, but his declining vision led him to announce his retirement in 1971. Congliaro suffered a massive heart attack in 1982, and died eight years later at the age of 45.
Bettis will be presented with the award Jan. 18 at the 79th annual Boston Baseball Writers' dinner co-hosted by the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America and the Sports Museum.
Tony Conigliaro Award recipients:
- 2017, Chad Bettis, Rockies
- 2016, Yangervis Solarte, Padres
- 2015, Mitch Harris, Cardinals
- 2014, Wilson Ramos, Nationals
- 2013, John Lackey, Red Sox
- 2012, R.A. Dickey, Mets
- 2011, Tony Campana, Cubs
- 2010, Joaquin Benoit, Rays
- 2009, Chris Carpenter, Cardinals
- 2008, Rocco Baldelli, Rays
- 2007, Jon Lester, Red Sox
- 2006, Freddy Sanchez, Pirates
- 2005, Aaron Cook, Rockies
- 2004, Dewon Brazelton, Rays
- 2003, Jim Mecir, Athletics
- 2002, Jose Rijo, Reds
- 2001, Jason Johnson, Orioles; Graeme Lloyd, Expos
- 2000, Kent Mercker, Angels; Tony Saunders, Marlins
- 1999, Mike Lowell, Marlins
- 1998, Bret Saberhagen, Red Sox
- 1997, Eric Davis, Orioles
- 1996, Curtis Pride, Tigers
- 1995, Scott Radinsky, White Sox
- 1994, Mark Leiter, Angels
- 1993, Bo Jackson, White Sox
- 1992, Jim Abbott, Angels
- 1991, Dickie Thon, Phillies
- 1990, Jim Eisenreich, Royals