Guthrie tweets, plays catch, gains new friend
Cancer survivor Roseland throws with right-hander at Coors Field
DENVER -- It was a special day, if not a lucky one, for Woody Roseland.A bone cancer known as osteosarcoma -- an aggressive malignancy that usually occurs during a time of rapid growth -- led to doctors replacing his left knee during his junior year of high school. From there, he has needed several surgeries to remove tumors from his lungs. After a long period of nagging pain in his left calf, doctors decided to remove his left leg from above the knee on June 14, 2011. After the amputation, he underwent 12 rounds of chemotherapy. Finally, on the morning of April 10, the staff at Presbyterian St. Luke's Hospital in Denver told him he was clear of cancer. However, Roseland, 21, understands good news and good luck often have an expiration date. "There have been a lot of times in my life when they were like, 'You're done with chemotherapy,'" Roseland said. "And I was, 'All right, sweet.' I felt healthy. I felt ready to take on the world. Then three months later it's -- I get scans again, and it's in my lungs. It's kind of been a recurring theme to hear that I'm cancer-free and then for it to come back." So he didn't take being cancer-free as permission to take a break, but a call to live. Little did he know that when he checked Twitter just moments after leaving the hospital office with the encouraging news, he would find an invitation for the day of his life, playing catch with Rockies pitcher Jeremy Guthrie at Coors Field.
Guthrie had never met Roseland, or hardly anyone else in Denver. He joined the Rockies in a Feb. 6 trade with the Orioles, and not long after that was in Scottsdale, Ariz., at Spring Training. He had never even been to Coors Field, his new home. But he also has never played the role of the lonely new guy."My wife can tell you I can meet someone random and in 10 minutes we can come away feeling like we've known each other for years," Guthrie said. "In Mexico, I met a Spaniard there. We played beach volleyball for two days, and by the end we were exchanging emails. She was like, 'You just met this guy playing volleyball, he's like 50, and you guys are best friends.'" So, after the Rockies played the first three games of their season at Houston, one of them being Guthrie's seven-inning performance in a win on Opening Day, Guthrie figured his popular Twitter account was a way to get to know at least someone in his new home. Little did he know that the answer to the invitation to play catch would be a call to a new type of friendship. This could easily be seen as a testament to the wonders of social media, as the technology helped Roseland and the pitcher quickly become fast friends. Coors Field was empty since the Rockies were off. And Guthrie, on his Twitter account, @jguthrie46, asked if anyone living in downtown Denver was free for a game of catch during lunch. @woodyroseland replied that he had a glove and finished with, "let's do this." But the people, more than the technology, drive this story.
Roseland has spent his entire life looking to smile and help others do the same, regardless of the circumstances. He admits having teachers from elementary school on admonish him for cracking jokes at the wrong times. But he was 16, playing wide receiver on the football team at Smoky Hill High School in Aurora, Colo., and pole vaulting in track when cancer was discovered and he had to have his left knee replaced.He finds ways to smile about his lost opportunity in football. The team switched from a running offense to a passing one while he was going through his ordeal. "The people that were backing me up had, like, 700 yards receiving," he said. "I was like, 'Oh, man, this is the worst time to get cancer.'" But he said cancer won't necessarily end his track career. "I actually met this girl who is an amputee pole vaulter; I'd never thought about it before," he said. "As soon as I get my running prosthetic I'm thinking of starting to pole vault again. I don't see why not. I'll be able to put that on my resume: World record holder." The ability to smile through pain led to an opportunity to do standup at Comedy Works in Denver. He poked fun at himself, even did a rap calling himself, "The illest rapper ever." However, Roseland found that, even when riddled by cancer, he could never feel the inner misery that seems to run through some of the best comedians. Bitterness doesn't inspire. So Roseland's aspirations are toward inspirational speaking and writing. He's majoring in business marketing at Metropolitan State University of Denver, taking courses online as his health improves. Roseland has made himself available to speak at schools, corporate initiatives, parties -- anywhere that he can deliver a message. He is scheduled to speak at the Technology Entertainment and Design's TEDxMileHigh conference in Denver on June 2. "I let comedy complement what I do, instead of being all that I do," he said. "With my experience of having cancer five times, I can use that to relate to people, connect with them and do something that makes a difference in their lives instead of just getting on stage and telling jokes." It's also clear that baseball is a way of reaching people for Guthrie. Guthrie is full of surprising little ways he is able to share his time with others. Last week, he tweeted that he would be more than happy to play catch with folks in the 16th Street Mall in Denver. He did exactly that, and sent out the pictures to prove it. On Saturday, the Rockies put Guthrie on the 15-day disabled list after he injured his right shoulder in a bicycle accident. But Guthrie won't let a spill dissuade him. Not only does he stand by his bike rides as a healthy and environmentally responsible way of going to work, it allows him to meet people. "Fans would talk to me every night on the bike, and I would go out all the time in Baltimore, whether to the ESPN Zone or eating at the Inner Harbor or down at the park," Guthrie said. "In Baltimore, you ran into the fans quite a bit based on where we were and our lifestyle. "Sometimes I'll play catch with fans during batting practice. I'll look out in left field and say, 'Hey, you want to play catch?' Or I'll start playing catch with them. That was one of my trademarks in Baltimore -- play catch with a fan every few days. If they caught a home run, I'd say, 'Throw it to me.' They'd be hesitant, but then they'd throw it and I'd throw it back. Then we'd just start playing catch." So it seemed so fitting that on April 10, two people who have unique ways of reaching out to others would end up in touch with one another.
Although Roseland never played baseball, he always followed the Rockies, and the 2007 Rocktober run to the World Series remains a fresh memory. At some point during a healthy period, he and his friends began playing catch and experimenting with different pitches. Little did he know it was preparation for a special game of catch.Roseland arrived at Coors Field and security let him travel corridors within the stadium he'd never see otherwise. He was welcomed warmly into the Rockies' clubhouse, where he and Guthrie would talk pitch strategy and get to know one another. Just out of chemo, Roseland was and still is not quite at the stage where his hair and eyebrows would reappear. He also figured the conversation would make it to the mechanical wonder that was serving as his left leg. Months before, Roseland met then-Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, but it was right before a game. They never really had a chance to move beyond pleasantries and photo ops. This would be different. "I was interested to see his reaction," Roseland said. "Going from a non-amputee to an amputee, you see how people treat you differently. He was totally cool about it, [a] really nice guy, really down to earth. We chatted for a while before he even asked me about it. He was like, 'If you don't mind me asking, what happened?' "If Jeremy wasn't famous, he'd still be a cool guy. He'd still collect sneakers, ride his bike around and play chess. It's important to stay grounded, still be who you are, even if you do get fame like he has, being a Major League Baseball player, or like I may, being a motivational speaker, writer, whatever it may be." When they made it to the field, Guthrie was impressed. Throwing from 90 feet gave Guthrie just the limbering his arm needed that day. They also made it to the mound, where Roseland made a few tosses and pictured what it must have been like for his beloved Rockies in 2007. But the one-on-one talking will always stand out for Guthrie. "People say, 'You did it for the attention,'" said Guthrie, who is thinking of offering fans an opportunity to go biking with him on a future off-day. "Certainly, I did it for the attention, but not for this attention. When I first sent out the tweet, there would be Twitter attention from my Twitter followers. Obviously, it took a much different turn. "The neatest thing is the attention for Woody and brightening his day. He enjoys sharing his story. He has many goals -- to overcome the disease and go out and do things. This is neat for him. It brings a smile to his face and brings attention to his cause." Roseland realizes all days won't be like April 10. Because the cancer has returned so many times, he realizes there is a high chance of it coming back. He's seen it happen to others, especially Jace, a 7-year-old. "Same diagnosis, same everything, went through everything side-by-side, went into remission together, then it came back for him and he ended up dying three months later," Roseland said. He fights for Jace and others who have been taken by the dreaded disease. He also lets others know that days like April 10 are possible. "It was pretty magical," Roseland said. "The grass was perfect. The dirt was perfect. It was pretty spectacular. It was definitely a surreal experience, especially when we came out of those doors and into the dugout. "As I'm walking up the stairs of the dugout -- I've seen that on TV a million times -- it was like, 'Whoa.'" "Whoa," in this case, means to never, ever stop.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.