Just 17 hours after starting at shortstop for the UCSB baseball team in its win over nationally ranked USC on Wednesday, senior Chris Malec underwent surgery for testicular cancer.
Malec was diagnosed Monday and informed Head Coach Bob Brontsema of his condition on Tuesday. At approximately 7 a.m. Thursday, Malec underwent surgery on at a local hospital. Later, at afternoon practice, Brontsema informed the team of Malec’s diagnosis and operation.
“I told the team basically what had happened and what our role is in supporting him. It’s really all about [Malec]; that’s all it’s about. It’s not about baseball, it’s not about us not having him, it’s about his health and him getting better and our role in supporting him,” Brontsema said. “Everyone is on that page, and we’ll all have our prayers for him and we’ll be there in any way he needs.”
Malec’s teammates responded with both shock and support after receiving the news.
“Most of the guys were pretty shocked, but I think if any person can beat it, it’s Malec,” senior right fielder Matt Wilkerson said. “He’s a strong kid and he’s handling this extremely well.”
As of Thursday afternoon, Brontsema and Wilkerson said Malec was in good condition after a successful surgery.
“Everyone’s waiting to find out what needs to happen next,” Wilkerson said. “I know only that they went in today and that he’s doing real well.”
Wilkerson was the first of Malec’s teammates to learn of the diagnosis. The two are close friends, having played as teammates for the past eight years. Malec and Wilkerson are both four-year starters for the Gauchos and matriculated to UCSB together from Santa Margarita High School in Laguna Nigel, Calif. in 2002.
Because of the cancer, Brontsema said Malec will be out of competition indefinitely but that he expects the member of the 2004 All-Big West First Team to return at some point this season.
“Assuming everything goes well, he’ll be back hopefully before the end of the year,” Wilkerson said. “Now our goal is just to extend the season by making the playoffs so that him missing this month won’t matter. He’ll be back and we’ll have another extra month of playoffs for him and it won’t make a difference.”
The Gauchos’ last series of the regular season is scheduled for May 27-29 in Northridge. The NCAA playoffs begin June 3. UCSB last made a trip to the NCAA Regionals in 2001.
Malec, 22, battled through injury in 2003 and saw limited action after a knee injury that sidelined him for most of the season.
Other injuries have altered the Santa Barbara lineup this season. Earlier this year, after an injury to sophomore starting shortstop Chris Valaika, Malec shifted from his three-year post at second base to shortstop to accommodate the emergence of back-up freshman second baseman Alden Carrithers.
“Well, it’s devastating, no question about it. That’s not something you want to hear about anybody, let alone a friend and teammate,” Brontsema said. “That’s a tough thing to handle, but Chris is strong and he fully intends on beating this. We anticipate that happening.”
After beating USC on Wednesday, the Gauchos will face UCLA for three games this weekend. The absence of Malec, who leads the team in runs scored and is second in batting average, creates a void the lineup and the locker room.
“Nothing baseball-wise changes in terms of what we’re doing. [This series] has maybe a little less meaning to us right now, but we’re going out and playing,” Brontsema said. “Our main goal baseball-wise is to have it when Chris comes back so that there’s something to play for.”