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T.J. SIMERS

Cancer doesn't change Derrick Hall's outlook on life

Former Dodgers spokesman, now chief executive of the Arizona Diamondbacks, maintains trademark positive attitude four months after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer.

March 24, 2012|T.J. Simers
  • Derrick Hall applauds as the Diamondbacks close out Game 4 of the NLDS against the Brewers last fall.
Derrick Hall applauds as the Diamondbacks close out Game 4 of the NLDS against… (Ross D. Franklin / Associated…)

From Scottsdale, Ariz. -- Maybe it's Derrick Hall's boundless enthusiasm as president and chief executive of the Arizona Diamondbacks that's so endearing, or his overriding philosophy in life: "Find a way to say yes."

Maybe it's his gift to motivate and to entertain or his imitation of others such as Peter O'Malley, Vin Scully and Jaime Jarrin who are devastating in their accuracy and hilarity.

Maybe it's his willingness to be human. When he learned he had prostate cancer, a few hours later he emailed all his employees to inform them.

"Because they are family," D-Hall explains.

A few days later, the Diamondbacks' employees threw him a surprise party, everyone in the room held an arm high in the air with a red bracelet reading: "D-Hall, D-Backs."

"Powerful," he says while talking about what it was like to walk to his seat in Chase Field night after night, employees throughout the park tapping their bracelets in support.

"I never asked God to make me better knowing he had more important things to do," he says. "But let me tell you, you can feel the power of prayer."

Maybe things go differently for the McCourts, the Dodgers and D-Hall if he remains in Los Angeles. But he's the first to see what is coming.

He has a wife, three kids and no job waiting for him, but soon after the arrival of Frank & Jamie McCourt as Dodgers owners he leaves rather than remain as their spokesman.

How does one not admire someone of principle? Or, his rise again to prominence? Hall's name is mentioned now whenever replacements for Commissioner Bud Selig are listed.

He's so good at promoting fun as a way of doing business that his team of employees was recognized by the United Nations recently as the most positive in the sports world. That's "world."

When Chase Field plays host to the All-Star game, the players all receive rings; he makes sure every employee working the game also receives a ring.

"Derrick just has a gift," says Ken Kendrick, Diamondbacks team owner.

He personally answers every email, every tweet he receives from fans. He insists there be no barriers between players and fans in spring training, modeling the experience after Vero Beach, Fla.

He's surprised to hear the Dodgers now keep what fans they still have remaining behind ropes.

He credits O'Malley for making him so fan-minded, a woman telling D-Hall he looked like an idiot for wearing a suit while sitting in the stands while urging fans to buy team shirts.

Now all Diamondbacks employees wear team shirts.

He's special, so many people now counting D-Hall as a friend after maybe meeting him only once. And he's only 43, so much more to do when he's told his life is in jeopardy.

He's visiting his cardiologist, who can't explain it to this day. He asks D-Hall to get a prostate blood test.

"He's never asked anyone to do that before; he even asks his assistant later what made him do it," says D-Hall, an elevated prostate number then prompting a biopsy.

When he gets the call in September he has cancer he's with the team in San Diego. He takes a hotel notepad and writes down what he will miss in life, beginning with wife Amy.

"Can't look in Aim's beautiful eyes.

"Can't hear [daughter] Ky say, 'Daddy.'

"Can't pet the Deets [the family dog].

"Won't see how much [son] Logan looks like me.

"Won't see what [son] Hayden becomes.

"Won't lay next to Amy in bed.

"Won't get NY apartment [a husband and wife shared dream].

"Won't walk Ky down the aisle.

"Won't be great Commish.

"Can't comfort each other as empty nesters.

"Don't want Ky to cry every night about how she misses Daddy and then five years later saying, 'I don't remember Daddy.'"

He takes a breath. "That's horrifying," says D-Hall, returning the list to his pocket. "Until I'm cleared …"

When he first tells his kids, he already knows his grandfather has died of prostate cancer and his father is dying from pancreatic cancer. He worries for his 16- and 13-year-old sons.

His 10-year old daughter, Kylie, loses it. "She equates any cancer to what happened to her grandfather, and now this is going to happen to Daddy," he says.

He undergoes surgery at USC in November, a few days later his wife finds a message written in magic markers in their daughter's room:

"My Daddy is a cancer survivor. He will walk me down the aisle. Like he said."

Ky has underlined, "like he said," three times.

They tweet a picture of her message to friends, a satisfying exclamation point for those who have been so supportive.

But D-Hall develops an infection. They want him to return to California, but he's so sick he doesn't want to go to the airport.

Kendrick insists. Hehas had his own bout with prostate cancer and has been there all the way with D-Hall. He arranges for a private plane with a stop in Las Vegas so D-Hall might visit his ill father.

"I got the chance to tell my dad he's the best father a kid could ever have," D-Hall says. "I kissed him on the forehead and then he went to sleep. The next day he was gone."

It has been more than four months since D-Hall's surgery. He's busy trying to help the Diamondbacks win a World Series.

His wife has more important work to do; keeping her husband healthy. She has made a vegan out of him, a fine fit for someone who doesn't mind being corny if it makes the day for others.

He also gets calls now from men who have had blood tests because of him; the results not good in nearly two dozen cases. He's asked whether he might be available to talk. They get all the time they need from D-Hall.

He has to have his blood drawn every three months with his cancer worse than first thought. Everything looks good, but he's still waiting for 100% clearance.

But had his cardiologist not asked for a blood test, D-Hall says he would have probably waited like most men.

"They tell me it would've gotten into my bones and they couldn't have treated it," he says. "My cardiologist is now one of my good friends."

It's a large group.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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