Berry discovers tumor, to have surgery
Astros' hitting coach told lump on kidney likely cancerous
HOUSTON -- While the Astros were in Atlanta during their recent three-city road swing, third-base coach Dave Clark, feeling loose and happy after a couple of good wins over the Reds and Braves, suggested the coaches take some batting practice swings on the field for a change.
What was supposed to be simply a fun session of how-far-can-you-hit-it between a couple of former big leaguers at Turner Field served a much more important purpose. It may have saved Sean Berry's life.
After that session, Berry felt a discomfort that he first mistook as general soreness. Then, as the pain worsened, he thought he might have kidney stones.
After discovering blood in his urine two days later, he knew he had to get checked out. He was examined by Dr. Richard Goldfarb at The Methodist Hospital in Houston on Wednesday and was told he likely has a cancerous tumor on his kidney. Berry has another consultation scheduled for noon Thursday, and it's likely he'll have surgery soon after to remove the tumor.
"The first CT scan showed abnormal shape of the right kidney," Berry said. "The doctor turned right to me and dropped the cancer word right on me. I said, 'How do you know?' He said, 'I'm looking right at it and usually, that's what it is.'"
Swinging so violently while taking batting practice likely triggered the bleeding, which helped Berry become aware that there was something wrong.
"I was hitting them off the top of the wall to left-center," Berry said. "[The doctor] said that if my kidney was normal size, everything would have been fine. But because it's abnormal in that corner, wherever the muscle was hitting it, it started to bleed."
Berry, 43, informed the team about his condition during a 4:15 p.m. team-only meeting in the clubhouse Wednesday, coincidentally attended by Aaron Boone, who is in town to visit the Astros for the first time since his open-heart surgery six weeks ago.
"Aaron and I were kidding each other, what's up with third basemen?" Berry said. "We must just live life harder."
Berry was in fine spirits after delivering the news to his team and the media and expressed optimism that the procedure to remove the tumor would be done laproscopically, which would require a much shorter recovery time.
"If they have to cut me open, it'll be longer," Berry said. "Trust me, I was ready [to have the surgery] today."
Berry's sister, Shannon, is a doctor, and he broke the news to her first with hopes he could get all the facts straight before he called his wife, Linda.
While Linda gave his kids the news prior to his speaking with them, he planned to speak with the entire family via conference call before the game Wednesday. The Berrys reside in southern California, and the Astros plan to fly the entire family -- including Berry's 15-year-old son, Tanner, and 13-year-old daughter, Madeline, to Houston to be with Berry when he has the surgery.
"I wasn't scared of [the news that I have cancer]," Berry said. "I wasn't expecting it, but I wasn't scared of it. I said, 'OK, what do we do next?' Then you start thinking about telling everybody -- telling the staff, players, front office, my family. That's been tough."
The news hit the team hard. Hunter Pence said he was trying to stay optimistic, but admitted he was "devastated." Berry was the club's roving hitting instructor when Pence was drafted in 2004 and was with the outfielder every step of the way through his ascent through the Minor League system. When Pence was called up in 2007, Berry was in his second season as the Astros' hitting coach.
"He knows me better than anyone," Pence said. "I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for him. I owe him a lot. I consider him a close friend, one of my closest. And a mentor. To me, this is horrible. Just devastating. I want to stay positive, but it's hard on me."
Clark also appeared to be very moved by the events of the day, especially when Berry told him directly, "You just saved my life."
"That really did something to me when he said that," Clark said. "I don't know if that's really the case -- it was more of a coincidence than anything. But those are things you can't explain."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.