Logan Barer isn’t the kind of person you would peg as a cancer survivor. His loose, goofy attitude and spot on a Division III baseball roster would lead you to believe it’s always been smooth sailing for the college junior. Even through a webcam, you can still tell how laid back the baseball fanatic is. You can also tell he’s a baseball fanatic right off the bat. Decked out in a Mets jersey and a Mets hat, and the Mets game on the TV in the background, it’s not hard to guess where his allegiance lies.
“I started playing baseball at 7:10 PM, if I remember correctly,” he says with a straight face, but starts cracking up once he sees me roll my eyes and tilt my head back in exasperation. I’ve known Logan for almost eight years, but I know so little about his life before high school. As it turns out, he only lived a normal life for ten years before discovering what he thought to be a wart on his right knee in February of 2005. “I was playing basketball, or ballin’ if you will, so I had to wear shorts. I noticed this lump on my knee and I was embarrassed because I thought it was a wart so I just put a Band-Aid over it. I didn’t want anyone else to see it, because it looked like a Dixon Ticonderoga pencil eraser. We finally went to the dermatologist and had it biopsied, and that’s when we found out it was Melanoma.”
What’s almost as surprising as a nine year old getting cancer is the fact that the kid who loved baseball so much he started playing tee ball when he was four, and thought he could pitch in a tee ball game, was on a basketball court. “I was only in that rec basketball league because it was winter and it was too cold for baseball, at least according to other people. I would’ve played baseball year-round.”
He puts on a pair of gag glasses, the kind with the big bug eyes and starts talking about his glory days playing tee ball. He explains how difficult it is to bunt, and that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t strike out. “One time, I just put the bat behind the ball, but nothing happened. Even if you miss and don’t hit the ball, you end up hitting the tee and the ball just sort of falls off it. That’s the closest thing to a bunt in tee ball.” It’s always hard to tell if, and in that case, when, he uses humor as a coping mechanism, or if he’s just being the stand-up comedian wanna-be, pun aficionado he’s been for most of his life. “During my recovery, I watched a lot of movies, like old Mel Brooks comedies and Airplane!. Those definitely helped me get through it all.”
Logan abruptly stops talking and takes off the glasses. He can turn his happy-go-lucky side on and off almost seamlessly. That’s probably why his coaches like him so much. He knows when to kick back in the dugout and have a good time, but also when it’s time to buckle down and go to work. “I remember being really frightened. I was nine, so obviously hearing you have cancer is tough. You’re at the age where you’ve heard stories of cancer killing people and you don’t know the difference between them. At that point, before I was more educated, cancer was cancer. Brain cancer, lung cancer, skin cancer, it was all cancer. I thought it was all deadly. But my dermatologist, Dr. Kolenik, who I still see to this day, explained it all to me which helped reduce my fear.”
What frightened him almost as much as hearing the news, was the thought of spending time away from the diamond. Although he was forced to miss a season of Little League, he still got his fair share of baseball. He wouldn’t have it any other way. His team named him honorary first base coach, and he threw out the first pitch at a Bridgeport Bluefish game. So maybe a little more than a fair share. “They set me up in front of pitcher’s mound because they assumed I wouldn’t be able to throw the full distance.” But Logan was stubborn and seemingly destined to be a pitcher. “I said ‘screw that,’ went up to the rubber, and one-hopped it into the catcher’s mitt.”
It only took one year of rehab before Logan found himself on the rubber again, but this time pitching for real. He and the opposing team quickly found out how deadly a ten year old pitcher could be. “I always had the best arm in Little League. When I was on the mound, people would be afraid to get in the batter’s box because I would just hit people. All the time. I wasn’t trying to start dugout-clearing brawls, though! I just had no control then. The only time the dugouts would empty was at the end of the games, but that wasn’t my fault!”
Melanoma is one of the rarest, and deadliest, types of skin cancer. It only accounts for less than two percent of skin cancer cases, but it causes 75% of deaths related to skin cancer, which is the majority of deaths in that category. Every 57 minutes, one person dies of melanoma. The five year survival rate for melanoma ranges from 78 to 40%, and the ten year survival rates range from 68 to 24%. Just don’t tell any of that to Logan. Actually, go ahead. He already survived stage three Melanoma once and now he’s pitching for Ithaca College. Stats like that don’t faze him anymore.
He didn’t get to upstate New York overnight, though. “It took a while for my high school coach to realize my potential. I was on JV freshman year. Sophomore year they called me up to varsity to mature as a ball player and I pitched fairly well. The maturing didn’t go as well.” That all-too-honest remark was punctuated, perhaps coincidentally, but most likely not, by Logan reaching for something on his desk, and bringing a novelty hat into frame, the kind with cup holders and straws on either side for drinking on the go. He places it on his head and tries to hold back a childish giggle. He fails.
“Occasionally I was called upon to start a game for JV but mostly I was on varsity. Junior and senior years I really came into my own, pitched really well. I won Barlow “Pitcher of the Year” both years. I was the only true pitcher on the team, so they relied on me a lot. There were plenty of guys who pitched and they were good, but I was the only guy who only pitched.” Apparently, he was the only guy who only played well.
“My senior year, we were so bad that I went 1-6 with a 2.22 ERA. The team had no offensive firepower to back me up.” Logan sits back in his chair and takes an imaginary sip of an imaginary beverage out of the hat. He is clearly peeved by something, an emotion rarely seen on his face. “I’ll never forget this one game my senior year. It was a home game against Immaculate. High school games are seven innings, instead of the regular nine, but we went into extra innings. I got the start and pitched eight full innings. I gave up one hit in the bottom of the sixth. It was one dinky little fly. I was dominating. I only walked a couple guys, struck out like 10 batters. When our coach pulled me in the bottom of the eighth, it was 0-0. Our reliever (name withheld) comes in. We lose 3-0 in 11 innings. There were at least 3 games that played out the same way that season. I throw a shutout, the offense is nonexistent, and the same reliever comes in and blows a tie game. Whatever. I knew it wasn’t my fault. I can’t let those losses get to me. It’s the ones where I give up 5 or more runs that I should have nightmares about…not that that’s ever happened.”
He also knew he had potential. Even when he didn’t get recruited by any schools he wanted to go to, he didn’t hang up his cleats and call it a career. He couldn’t, not after how far he’s come since he was aimlessly swinging a bat at a tee. He couldn’t imagine a life without baseball, either. “I lived a year without it and it was awful, so I decided to do a post-graduate year at Suffield Academy in upstate Connecticut, basically to give me another year to develop physically, to get bigger and stronger, as well as get better as a player.” And he did. He found his way out of a small town in Fairfield County to one step closer to making it big.
“I was just another kid who had dreams of playing major league baseball, but at that point I didn’t know I’d be playing in college and actually be this close to making it.”
Should Logan require any more motivation, not that he should need it, he’s not alone in his crusade. Big MLB names like Mike Lowell, former Boston Red Sox third baseman who won a World Series and four trips to the All-Star Game, Jon Lester, who won two World Series with the Red Sox as a pitcher, and first baseman Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs, who was an All-Star last season, were all diagnosed, and subsequently recovered, from various types of cancer. Most notably among baseball’s cancer survivors though, is Darryl Strawberry, who was once a member of Logan’s beloved New York Mets. Although his colon cancer came during his time with the Yankees, he is still someone a hopeful like Logan can get inspiration from.
But Strawberry can’t help Logan through yet another setback. He’ll have to recover from his ACL tear and ensuing surgery on his own. “I’m devastated in every sense of the word, but I’m keeping myself occupied.” He pulls a deck of cards out of a drawer and performs a few magic tricks for me. “I’m a magician now!” he exclaims gleefully. No one is surprised by that. What surprises everyone, including myself, is how someone who was diagnosed with the deadliest form of skin cancer at such a young age could grow up to be someone who lives without a care in the world and pitches at one of the more competitive DIII colleges.
Maybe the next time Logan throws out a pitch at a Bluefish game, he won’t be just a worried little kid with cancer, but a hometown a hero, an easygoing kid who survived cancer and is now pitching for the New York Mets. One can only hope he’ll be wearing gag glasses in the team photo.