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Butler Finally Steps on Field of Dreams

Baseball: Less than four months after operation for cancer, Dodger works out with team before game with Montreal.

August 28, 1996|From Associated Press

MONTREAL — It's been less than four months since the operations to remove the cancer from his neck, but there was Brett Butler, working out with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday.

"I'm not 100% but I'm working on that," Butler said after his first workout with the Dodgers since he last played a game on May 1.

"The question is: Can I play at the major league level and produce?" he said. "That's the level we're trying to reach."

Butler, 39, hit in the batting cage and shagged fly balls in the outfield before Tuesday night's game with the Montreal Expos.

"I've been hitting on a college field but I couldn't really gauge how I was hitting," he said. "Here, I wanted to see if I could pull the ball, hit up the middle, hit it into the seats.

"I was swinging well today and making good contact. I thought I did well," he said.

Butler arrived ahead of the team on Monday from New Orleans, where he had been working out on his own to begin the process of trying to regain major league form.

Should he succeed, he could be back in center field by the end of the season. For now, he'll work out daily and cheer on his teammates from the dugout as they chase San Diego in the NL West.

"I didn't work this hard to come back and be a cheerleader," Butler said. "I did it to come back and try to help this club.

"I won't play unless I can help the club. So we'll see. My body will tell me if I can do it," he said.

Butler underwent operations on May 2 and May 21 to remove cancer from his tonsils and neck. After radiation and treatments to rebuild his immune system, the 16-year major league veteran was cleared to start working out.

Recent tests showed no cancer in his blood. He has regained his normal weight in the 160-pound range and now has to get his reflexes and conditioning back to scratch.

"I'm getting more strength every day," he said. "I can feel my cardiovascular coming back."

His manager and teammates were inpressed.

"I think he can do it," manager Bill Russell said. "If you'd seen him three weeks ago and then here, it's like night and day.

"The question is if he can get back his timing and stamina. They're the hardest things to overcome," he said.

Third baseman Tim Wallach called Butler's return "unbelievable."

"That he can come back this fast is incredible. He's going to help the club just by being here. If he can play--so much the better," he said. "It's amazing that he came back but that's secondary to his health. That's first and foremost."

A danger of returning to work too soon after cancer treatments is the risk of getting ill because of a weak immune system, but Butler's doctors told him to go ahead.

"They said it could help me," he said. "Getting your cardiovascular system back is better than sitting around."

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