Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

June 28, 2010

Two O’s connected through cancer

BLUEFIELD — Jeremy Shelby and Cody Young share a lot in common. They share a common profession as baseball players. They share a common team with the Bluefield Orioles. They even share a room when they are on the road. But there is one thing that binds both men that few people would expect.

Both are childhood cancer survivors.

Their struggles are different, yet similar. Their experiences have made them humble, yet hungry. Their goals are now the same, to make it to the majors while remembering and learning from the lessons of their common pasts.

Both men were young boys at one time. Shelby was born on Aug. 14, 1987 in Los Angeles and grew up in Lexington, Ky. His father, John Shelby, played with the Bluefield Orioles in the 1970s with Cal Ripken and won a World Series with Baltimore in 1983. Jeremy’s baseball influence was deeply ingrained in the family.

“He played for 11 years and after that he was coaching in the minor leagues,” Jeremy said. “So in the summers, my whole family would take trips and visit him. So we’d be in the outfield catching fly balls, in the cages hitting. So my dad would teach me a lot when he had the chance.

“He didn’t get to see me play a lot, but he got a chance to teach me the game. Baseball, if you’re around the game enough you’ll learn how to play and learn the rules and how to carry yourself. So being around minor league baseball and major league baseball growing up just gave me the sense of the game that I have now.”

Young was born on Jan. 5, 1988 in Muncie, Ind. He also had an athletic father who influenced his love for the game.

“I’ve been playing baseball since I was about 6 years old,” Young said. “My dad coached me up until I was high-school age. Then he kind-of let the coaches take over. But I’ve been playing sports since I was 6 with my brothers and played basketball, baseball, football, soccer, just played a lot of sports. But baseball was my best sport and that’s what I loved the most. So that’s what I tried to continue after high school.”

But early in his baseball career, Young was dealt a setback that could have derailed his dreams forever. At the age of 9, he was diagnosed with liver cancer. Young went through chemotherapy and radiation treatments until the cancer went away.

But it did not stay away. A short time later, doctors found tumors in his chest area and lungs. This time the cancer threatened to take away Young’s life.

“The second time it came back, it was inoperable. It was stage four, the worst stage. It wasn’t really looking good,” Young said. “I asked the doctor if I was going to die. He said, ‘We’ve all got to die sometime.’ I don’t think he thought that I was going to make it.”

When Young recounted the severity of the tumors, it was easy to see why.

“One was attached to one of the arteries in my heart. Another one was on my chest cavity and another one was on my lung,” he said. “Two of them were too big to operate on at first. But through a miracle they shrunk to where they were small enough to where the doctors could go in and operate on them.”

Shelby’s life changed at the age of 13. That was when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his neck and chest.

“I had to do chemotherapy. I had to do radiation,” Shelby said. “It wasn’t difficult. I never really wanted to see myself as being sick, so I tried to keep my same routines and I still played baseball. I still played sports so that kind-of helped me not to get sick and throw up as much as people who go through those treatments.”

Three months of chemotherapy and one month of radiation were not the only weapons Shelby used to battle his disease.

“I just stayed prayed up and I had a lot of people praying for me and my relationship with God increased tremendously and I think that’s really what got me through it,” he said. “I’m a much stronger person and if I had to go through it again I would definitely choose to ’cause it really molded me into the person that I am today.”

Young also relied on moral support from those around him while he was fighting his cancer.

“My parents, really, really, really helped me through the process,” he said. “I had all kinds of people praying for me. My brothers were a big help throughout the process. A lot of my friends showed a ton of support. There’s just a lot of people I owe a lot of thanks to throughout the whole process and who are still supporting me today.”

Baseball was another weapon both used to combat their cancers. They relied on it as a way to forget about the treatments, the pain and the potential consequences of their diseases.

“Baseball was kind-of my escape,” Young said. “When I was on the baseball field, I didn’t have to think about going to the hospital and having surgeries and I didn’t have to think of any of that when I was playing baseball. I could just go out and have fun with my friends. And that was something I was good at, so it was fun for me to be able to do that in my off time I guess.”

As time went on and their cancers stayed away, both men spent more time on the diamond in a quest to regain their talents at a level they always wanted to be.

“I never left,” Shelby said. “For the last six years I’ve been looking forward to playing like I knew I could play and in the summer of last year I really felt that I got back to my true capabilities. So to see your body get back to the strength that you know you have, that’s a blessing. So I feel like I’m back now.”

“I felt like if God’s going to do something like that in my life, there’s got to be a bigger purpose for my life,” Young said. “And baseball’s been something that he’s blessed me with an ability to play. I just always felt like things worked out to where I was going to be able to play in college and I improved enough when I was in college to make it to this level.”

Both men played in college, Shelby at Grambling State University and Young at NCAA Division III Anderson University. Both were unsure if they would get noticed by professional teams. Both questions were answered by the Baltimore Orioles.

“I prayed about getting drafted since the beginning of the season,” Shelby said. “It’s been my goal forever. So when it finally happened it was just relief and just gratefulness and just thankful to God that it finally happened.”

“I was pretty ecstatic,” Young said. “It was pretty surreal. I wasn’t even recruited out of high school. I was recruited by one school. It was a Division III school. To come from that to this is a pretty big swing.”

Both men want to make the most of their time in Bluefield.

“Bluefield’s really fun,” Young said. “The people here are all really nice and they’re very supportive. I’m pretty excited about our first home game and I think it’ll be a really cool experience.”

“I enjoy Bluefield. It’s a small town, but the teammates here, we’ve been getting along well,” Shelby said. “We have fun. We make the best of it and it’s really baseball. You’re here to play baseball.

“So the town is great. If you have a great town it’s so much better. It’s good to have teammates that are focused on the game. So we just hang out, come to the field. After the field, we go home and hang out and just have a good time.”

Both men want to learn as much as they can to they can progress to the next level of the minor leagues.

“Growing up, I really didn’t have the coaches and the teams that I played for,” Shelby said. “So to be under guys like Einar Diaz that played in the Major Leagues, I’m just soaking that all in and just trying to get better each day and at the end of the season every minor leaguer’s goal is to go to the next level until he gets to the big leagues.”

“I’d love to gain experience as a player and make it to the next level,” Young said. “I hope to gain good friends, build relationships, that’s something that’s really important to me. I hope to build good relationships here in Bluefield and try to get to the next level.”

Both men also want to make the most of their newfound connection.

“When we found out, it was an instant connection,” Shelby said, “just to go through that at a young age and for both of us to get drafted to the same team, we’ll be connected forever.”

— Contact Jed Lockett

at jlockett@bdtonline.com

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