Graves on road to recovery
Navarro sophomore battling back from Hodgkin lymphoma
Sterling Graves felt strong enough to pitch in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
The Navarro (Texas) College sophomore would have been a big help, but it wasn’t going to happen.
Graves hasn’t pitched since March because he’s in the midst of chemotherapy treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma cancer.
“I got way too far behind,” Graves said. “I had a month straight of doctor appointments every single day. My arm is out of shape.
“The day before I found out what it was, I could tell my arm feels really alive.”
He was in uniform and in the dugout for the Bulldogs, who were eliminated in a 15-9 loss to Palm Beach State (Fla.) College on Monday afternoon.
“It means a lot to have him here,” teammate Clint Rupp said. “He’s a lot of fun. I’m glad he could come.”
Graves was pitching well for the Bulldogs this season before he was diagnosed. He allowed one run on four hits and had a 1.00 earned-run average in six appearances out of the bullpen. He pitched nine innings.
Navarro was on a road trip when Graves noticed a lump on his neck.
“I went home and told my mom,” he said. “We went and had it checked out right away at an Urgent Care.”
Graves said he had a cold a couple weeks before he noticed the lump.
“They said your lymph nodes are probably swollen,” Graves said. “We didn’t think it was a big deal, but they said there was a possibility it was something else. They asked me some other questions, like if I had any other symptoms like fatigue and night sweats. I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve had all of that.’
“That night I went to the hospital and got a CAT scan. It showed enlarged lymph nodes in my neck, chest area on my left side. From there, I saw different doctors. I had to go down to Houston. They are like the leading cancer hospital.”
He was diagnosed on March 15.
“We were really sad for him,” Rupp said. “We never expected it. We heard it might be an infection and were hoping for the best. He came back to practice one day and told us. We’ve been by his side the whole time and let him know he can get through it.”
Navarro coach Whoa Dill could tell Graves’ diagnosis affected the team.
“For the next two weeks, the mind process was, ‘Is he going to be OK?’ ” Dill said. “When he came back with the same personality knowing what he was going through with chemo, it picked up the team’s spirits. They want him in this dugout. They understand he can’t pitch. He keeps everybody focused on their job.”
When Graves returned to the dugout with the team, the Bulldogs, who won the JUCO World Series in 2011, became more motivated to return to Grand Junction for Graves.
“He’s definitely like a brother to us,” Rupp said. “We wanted to do this for him. We’re showing him he’s still a part of the team.”
Graves is scheduled to have his fourth treatment Thursday, but he was prepared to miss it for the World Series even though he had to fly in a small plane because of doctor’s orders.
“The doctors don’t want you in close quarters with a bunch of people,” he said. “The plane was like a crop duster. It was scary.
“I can postpone (treatment) a couple days. I’m not going to miss this experience.”
Graves was with Navarro in 2011, but he redshirted because of an elbow injury and missed the Bulldogs’ national title run.
“This is every junior college team’s goal at the beginning of the year,” Graves said. “I’d like to think everyone is doing it not just for me, but for themselves.
“I grew up a lot with them these past three years. They’re my brothers, for sure. I wouldn’t miss this for anything. This is what I worked for for three years.”
Graves missed enough games he could apply for a medical redshirt, but he’s already taken enough credits to graduate. He had to enroll as a part-time student in the fall so he could be eligible this spring.
“I’m a baseball player,” Graves said. “I love the game. I’m going to play as long as I can. I’m going to try to play next year, but my treatments will go into the fall, so I’m probably going to take off. After chemo, I’ve got a month of radiation.”
Graves will get a treatment progress scan when he goes in for his next visit.
His dad is the all-time winning pitcher at Dallas Baptist University and pitched in the New York Yankees’ minor-league system for a period.
“He gets this cleared up, he’s going to play again,” Dill said. “A kid from the University of Texas that had the same thing called him. We’re going to beat this thing.”