Randy Thompson and his son, Tyler. (Jamie Thompson )
Every once in a while, amid the emotional ups and downs of high school sports competition, there needs to be a reminder of what's truly important, and nothing offers a more powerful perspective than listening to a father's anguish about his son.
"The toughest thing is, I'm completely helpless," Mission Hills Alemany baseball Coach Randy Thompson said in describing the challenge of trying to help his 12-year-old son, Tyler, make it through 15 sessions of chemotherapy after cancer was discovered when a cyst was drained from his right hand last December.
"Just watching your son go through chemotherapy is a gut-wrenching experience," Thompson said.
Every two weeks, Tyler goes to Children's Hospital Los Angeles and spends three to five days receiving treatment for Ewing sarcoma, a type of bone cancer. His mother, Jamie, usually stays with him. His father visits too. A younger brother and sister, ages 6 and 3, stay with grandparents while Tyler is being treated.
The good news, according to Thompson, is that the cancer didn't spread before it was detected and the long-term prognosis "is good."
The bad news is Tyler has nine more treatments to go. He lost his hair after the second treatment. Sometimes he's so weak he loses his breath taking a shower. But like many 12-year-olds, he's resilient.
"He's shown tremendous strength and courage," his father said.
Last week, when Alemany was facing St. Francis in a Mission League game, Tyler asked his father to text him updates. After finding out that Alemany was trailing, 2-0, in the bottom of the third, Tyler texted back from his bed, "How's that possible? You better tell them to get going."
After Alemany rallied for seven runs, Randy texted Tyler the good news.
"So my speech worked!" Tyler texted back.
Baseball has been good for everyone involved. Thompson said he gave consideration to not coaching after learning of the cancer but decided that Tyler loves coming to games (Alemany was 10-1 with him in the dugout last season), and baseball is also a way for Thompson to escape that day's struggles for a couple of hours.
"We know baseball is his safe spot, his haven, his island," assistant coach Tim Browne said of Thompson. "It gives him something he has control in his life."
Baseball has helped in ways Thompson never imagined. Virtually every team the Warriors have played this season has offered assistance. West Ranch signed a card for Tyler. Chatsworth signed a baseball. Sherman Oaks Notre Dame presented a $250 gift certificate. Parents bring the family meals. There have been fundraisers and shave-athons, with just about anybody and everybody stepping forward to offer prayers and support.
"It's almost embarrassing how much support we've gotten," Thompson said. "There's a lot of good people. Our family is grateful to everybody who's helped out."
Tyler's battle has affected Thompson in other ways. When he gets in his car after a win or a loss to drive home, he leaves the game at the field. His first thoughts are about his family.
"It does put things in perspective," Thompson said. "I've always preached, 'Your priorities had better be family, school, baseball.' Before we take the field every day, our team chants, 'Family.'"
Browne, the crafty assistant coach, is already plotting to make sure Tyler is available to be in the dugout come playoff time.
"We were trying to break him out of school to get him on the playoff run last year, but when your mom is a teacher...," Browne said.
As for Thompson, he's happy to be the baseball coach at Alemany, but he said, "My greatest job is father."