For Rays' Balfour, a heartbreaking trip from home

Grant Balfour's mind is on his dad, fighting cancer in Australia.
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ST. PETERSBURG — His 2014 season had been mostly a mess, and that's more politely than he would put it. Concerns about the massive makeover his Rays team was undergoing heading into 2015 would have been natural.

But nothing was anywhere near as tough for Grant Balfour as wrapping up his December trip home to Australia by saying goodbye to his father, David.

"It killed me. I can't even talk about it now," Balfour recalled last week, voice cracking, eyes glazing. "He dropped me off at the airport and I looked at him, and I thought, 'This might be the last time I ever see my dad.' … That was tough."

David Balfour was supposed to be dead already.

When first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2010, he was given 1½, maybe two years to live. Remission brought a temporary reprieve, but the cancer returned in 2011 and has since spread to David's stomach, neck and brain, where two tumors were found last year. He has endured several surgeries, plus multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, and is down to less than 120 pounds. His doctors say he is the longest-surviving pancreatic cancer patient around.

"He's been through a whole lot," Grant said. "He's lost a lot of weight. It's eating his body away at the moment. You can see it. It's tough. You look at him, it's tough to look at."

Grant was scheduled for a December trip Down Under. But when he got word that David, now 62, might not make it until then, having been hospitalized with blood clots and other complications, he took his wife and two daughters in November in case that was goodbye. David wouldn't have it.

Grant, 37, went back for the planned MLB Ambassador program visit, and the highlight was joining David on the field for a pregame ceremony staged by the Sydney Blue Sox to honor his contributions to growing the game in Australia.

The public address announcer detailed how David was a professional rugby player, how he fought in the Vietnam War, how he got involved first in youth league baseball (teaching himself enough about the game to coach Grant's teams) then became the owner and GM of the Sydney team, how he worked tirelessly to help other players get signed by major-league organizations, and how much he did to lead the growth and expansion of the pro game in Australia.

David was presented a Blue Sox jersey, and Grant threw out the first pitch in his honor.

"A special day for me," Grant said.

Now there is another special day coming up: Feb. 28.

That's when Grant will be inducted into Baseball Australia's Hall of Fame. Players don't typically get that honor when they're still active. But special dispensation was granted so that David could see it happen.

"Ten years service in Major League Baseball makes Grant Balfour's Hall of Fame induction inevitable," the Hall said in statement. "Exceptional family circumstances has led to the heartfelt decision to bring that honour forward for his father to see."

Grant was touched by the acknowledgement — and the accommodation.

"I thought it was pretty cool they did that," he said. "They realized the situation that he's in, just not knowing. It was kind of respect for him that they wanted to do that."

Grant is clearly proud of what his father meant to their country. He gets emotional when trying to describe what meant most to him, what lessons were most lasting: "Just be tough. Never give up. You know, never back down from a challenge."

Grant isn't planning to go back for the induction ceremony since it's during spring training and such a long haul. But he is counting on David to represent him.

"He's been great," Grant said. "He's got a real good mind. He's really focused. He gives himself goals. 'I want to get to June, I want to get to this date.' And he really pushes himself to get to this date. He'll tell himself, 'I want to live until January.' And he's still going. Now it's February. …

"I think he'll definitely be there."

Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

 
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