As left-hander Nick Hurtado of Corona Santiago stood on the mound Friday ready to make his first and last pitch of the 2010 baseball season, he was experiencing powerful emotions deep inside.
Only weeks ago, he learned his baseball season would be over after a cancerous tumor was detected in his right knee. Then came word he'd have to undergo three months of chemotherapy, have surgery to remove part of his kneecap and insert a rod in his leg, followed by six more months of chemotherapy.
"It was a pretty big shock," he said. "My head was going a million miles a second. I was sad, I was scared, I was nervous. I didn't know what to think."
Then, on Thursday, Coach Ty De Trinidad, who has known Hurtado since he was 10, told him he would get to start the opening game against Santa Ana Mater Dei because he had earned it.
"When he told me that, my heart jumped," Hurtado said. "I can go to the mound again."
And so there he was, with Mater Dei leadoff hitter Derek Campbell at the plate. Hurtado, who signed with Cal State Fullerton and was supposed to be one of the top pitchers in Southern California this season, threw a fastball for a called strike.
Then all of his teammates, on and off the field, came to the mound to embrace him. Fans stood and clapped in the bleachers at Santiago. Campbell graciously applauded at the plate. And Hurtado limped off toward the dugout, holding the lineup card that had been handed to him.
It was only one pitch, but the inspiration on display affected many.
There was never any doubt how his teammates would respond. The Sharks hit six home runs, including two apiece by catcher Brandon Baxter and first baseman Kyle Kuck, to defeat Mater Dei, 17-2. Hurtado was enjoying every minute of his team's dominating performance in the dugout.
There are no illusions about the tough road ahead for Hurtado.
"Monday, his life is going to be turned upside down," De Trinidad said.
On Monday, Hurtado begins chemotherapy treatments and will spend seven days hospitalized, then go home for two weeks. He'll have limited outside contact because his immune system will be weakened.
But his attitude seems positive, and he's grateful for the support from his parents, teammates and friends. Fullerton has told him they are ready to help during his rehab. His goal is one day to return to the mound, but he understands first he must beat the cancer. He said it is in its infancy stage and hasn't spread, so the prognosis is good.
"This is big-time adversity," he said, "but you have to take it one step at a time. I'm going to attack it with my best stuff. It's just like another game to me, and I'm going to be in the winner's circle."