LSUS Pilot pitcher forces cancer to strike out

The story of one player's journey from battling cancer to playing for LSUS

By Montana Davis 

Photo courtesy of David Diaz

Photo courtesy of David Diaz

LSU Shreveport baseball is honored with the arrival of their newest pitcher and utility player, David Diaz.  He chose to play for LSUS after struggling and ultimately leaving the sport for over a year due to his battle with not one, but two types of cancer. 

Diaz, 23, first noticed something was wrong while attending Vernon College, where he developed some arm issues while pitching.  Shoulder and arm injuries are very common for ball players, especially pitchers, so it was nothing new for Diaz to handle.  However, his arm issues later got to the point he could not play the entire summer after the season.

After playing a season for Vernon, Diaz went on to Cedar Valley.  His arm issues progressed, along with the mystery behind them that no doctor could seem to diagnose.  He was told it could be neck knots or maybe even Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, certainly nothing physical rehabilitation could not fix.

 With no diagnosis, he continued to pitch more than he ever had before, pitching around 100 innings that season.

Finally, the following summer, a frustrated doctor finally conducted a needle biopsy on Diaz to test for cancer. The test came back negative.  Still not satisfied with the results, the doctor conducted another biopsy, this time cutting pieces of Diaz’s neck and shoulder to test.

After that biopsy, Diaz was diagnosed with Stage-2 Lymphoma and Hodgkin’s cancer.  Both are forms of cancer in which the white blood cells that form part of the immune system and help protect the body from disease, divide rapidly and live longer than normal cells, eventually forming a tumor. Diaz was immediately sent through more testing.

With an absolutely life-changing summer behind him, Diaz continued to go to school at Tarleton University, not letting the diagnosis prevent him from graduating.   After the third week of school, he then began going to chemotherapy--not the usual experience for most college students.

Naturally, Diaz was not allowed to play any sports. Still, he watched and supported his teammates from the dugout.  Diaz remained optimistic throughout it all and said that  “it was a cool experience but of course, it sucked.”

He did not get to touch the field until March 2012.

On December 28, 2012, Diaz said he received the best Christmas present he could ever ask for, the news that he had finally beaten cancer.

On January 22, 2013, Diaz began going to radiation therapy.  It was 22 long, straight days of radiation where Diaz said he felt like Hell Raiser, due to having to wear a monstrous face mold during the therapy. 

Finally, after what he said felt like an eternity of therapy, he got the clear that he could finally go back to his normal sports routine.

Diaz was on the fast track back to baseball.  He passed his conditioning test with ease and began working out again.  Everything seemed as if it would finally be back to normal for the young baseball star.

But even though the doctor had given his approval and Diaz’s body was healthy again, the new healing process he faced, plus the overwhelming anxiety of cancer returning to his body, turned him into somewhat of a hypochondriac. 

Only two short days after his second game for Tarleton, Diaz made the extremely emotional and heartbreaking decision that he would never play baseball ever again.

Quitting baseball forced Diaz to mature and grow like he never expected. He moved back home after finishing the semester and, while trying to figure out what to do next, he decided to enroll in the local community college.

Photo by Montana Davis David Diaz joined the Pilot baseball team last spring. 

Photo by Montana Davis

David Diaz joined the Pilot baseball team last spring. 

 “It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, going to school and not having a reason to go to school, like playing baseball is 90% why student athletes, baseball players go to school,” Diaz said.

While being just a normal student for the first time, Diaz also had students of his own as he took on a job as the site director of an elementary school.  He took naturally to kids and suddenly realized that although he couldn’t play ball anymore, he could still coach it.

Diaz went on to coach for his old summer baseball team, the Black Hawks. Diaz said coaching form them became his life.  All he did day in and day out was attend school and coach.

 “If I hadn’t started coaching I probably wouldn’t have come here,” Diaz said of his decision to play for the Pilots.

In fact, the Diaz’s motivation for returning to playing baseball could be described as something out of a Hollywood sports movie.

“One night, I woke up at four in the morning and I could not go back to sleep. It was the most vivid dream I’ve ever had in my life,” Diaz said. “It was me back at school--I didn’t know what school it was--and I was pleading my case on why I can play.  I was going on and they were telling me I couldn’t play. They were like ‘Oh, you quit you can’t come back and play anymore’… and I was heartbroken. ‘You’re not gonna let me play?’”

Diaz recalls an overwhelming feeling he could not shake.  He said he thought to himself  “there’s no way someone’s going to tell me what I can’t do.”

Unable to fall back to sleep, he spent four solid hours emailing coach after coach, asking for a chance, hoping his nightmare would not come true.  The next morning, the very first response back was none other than LSUS’s own Brent Lavallee, offering him a try-out.

Diaz arrived to LSUS in late March 2013, not necessarily at the peak of his athletic capability.  He said that he had to work out and train alone because his friends would be at school and, of course, he couldn’t ask his young students to help out.

After nine months of not even picking up a baseball, Diaz went to his try-out with Lavallee.  Due to his skills and rigorous training, he was given an offer right on the spot. Without any hesitation, Diaz signed on to become a Pilot.

A month later in Fort Worth, Diaz officially signed on to the LSUS baseball team.  Diaz said he is looking forward to being on a team and going to school again, but most importantly he is finally getting back the sport he thought cancer had taken away from him for good.