Pirates star Taillon in town, reflects on 2017 season
By John Hartsock
Jameson Taillon was taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the second overall pick in the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft, and his awesome curve ball was one big reason why.
The 6-foot-6 right-hander’s curve ball drops at a razor-sharp, mind-boggling 12-to-6 angle that leaves even many of the most seasoned and accomplished big-league hitters befuddled.
But life did an about-face on Taillon and threw him a proverbial curve ball of its own last May, when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
However, just five weeks after Taillon underwent successful surgery, he was back on the mound pitching for the Pirates in mid-June.
The Texas native, now 26, finished the year with an 8-7 record and 4.44 earned run average in 25 starts, striking out 125 batters in 133.2 innings pitched.
A cancer diagnosis is a life-altering event, and Taillon — who was in Altoona Wednesday as part of the Pirates Charities annual winter Care-a-Van — admitted that he took some time in coming to grips with it.
“It’s pretty life-changing, whether you like it or not,” Taillon said. “It puts things into perspective, and makes you realize what is important.”
Among Taillon’s top priorities is to adhere to his after-care treatment regimen following the cancer diagnosis and surgery. He was not required to undergo any radiation or chemotherapy treatments.
“I’m still keeping up with my blood work, seeing doctors and making sure that I’m on top of everything,” Taillon said. “I’m healthy now, and hopefully, I will be going forward.”
Nonetheless, Taillon’s diagnosis made for a challenging season in 2017.
“It was an interesting season,” Taillon said. “I was a little tired at the end. Mentally, it was kind of a roller-coaster for me. It just feels good to kind of recuperate and recover, and I’m excited to get ready for next year.”
Taillon said that returning to baseball last June 12 was therapeutic for him after the cancer diagnosis.
“Being around the guys and being back on the field and working out was kind of an escape for me,” Taillon said. “For me, it was kind of like therapy. The word ‘cancer’ is pretty scary.
“I just wanted not to talk about it, and I wanted to forget about it at the time and just focus on getting back to full health,” Taillon said. “I didn’t really have a timetable (for returning to baseball). It was when I was ready mentally and physically ready, and it just happened to be in five weeks.”
Though Taillon didn’t say much during his recovery, he was an inspiration to his teammates.
Catcher Jacob Stallings –one of the Pirates players joining Taillon on the Altoona Care-a-Van trip to visit veterans at the James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center and to present a check and supplies to the St. Vincent DePaul Monastery Community Garden during a stop at Peoples Natural Gas Field — acknowledged Taillon’s quiet strength and extraordinary resilience.
“Obviously, his journey and story is pretty well-documented, and you can’t say enough about his resolve,” said Stallings, who was Taillon’s catcher at Class AAA Indianapolis during his rehab pitching assignment last spring before Taillon re-joined the Pirates’ major-league club. “I think what stood out for us as his teammates is how positive he stayed through it all.”
Taillon was no stranger to adversity prior to the cancer diagnosis, having missed substantial or full parts of previous seasons after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia, and Tommy John elbow surgery.
“You just learn through going through all the different surgeries and rehab processes that you have to win one day in order to get to the next day,” Taillon said. “That has carried over to my life.”
Taillon will be a key figure in the fortunes of the 2018 Pirates’ starting pitching staff. The young overall group carded a cumulative 4.47 earned run average that ranked them sixth among all National League starting staffs in 2017.
“We’re excited,” Taillon said. “I think this past year was really important for us to grow and improve. It’s a great group of guys, and I think we’re going to take a step forward next year.”