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Rays’ Chris Archer says death of his mom was ‘hardest’ thing he’s faced

The pitcher hopes to be back on the mound by early July after recovering from forearm tendinitis.
Rays pitcher Chris Archer, here flanked by his mother, Donna, and father, Ron, talked Saturday about the losing his mother on May 1.
Rays pitcher Chris Archer, here flanked by his mother, Donna, and father, Ron, talked Saturday about the losing his mother on May 1. [ Times (2016) ]
Published May 29, 2021|Updated May 29, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — When Chris Archer’s mother, Donna, first was diagnosed with pneumonia around the start of the season, the expectation was that she’d spend a couple weeks in the hospital, then be fine.

When her condition worsened over the next few weeks, Archer, who was sidelined from pitching at the time with a forearm issue, went home to North Carolina, with the Rays’ blessing, to be with her and family.

As difficult as the situation was, tougher than anything Archer has faced, he felt fortunate to be there when she died May 1.

“It’s weird. There was — I don’t know what the right word is; I’m still looking for it, there may not be a right word — but there was some element of peace or comfort or closure that me and my dad (Ron) were able to be there by her side as things really started to (decline),” Archer said Saturday.

“It’s a special feeling. She was there when I took my first breath. And I was there when she took her last. It sounds really weird. It was really, really, really tough. But there is some peace from that. Not full peace, not full closure. But I did definitely take something positive from that.”

Archer, 32, needed some time after her passing, acknowledging he initially “didn’t have the motivation” or desire to resume the throwing and rehab sessions he had been doing near their Clayton, N.C., home.

But he never wavered on coming back, in part knowing how supportive the Rays had been and would continue to be. Rejoining the team a few weeks ago, being among the staff and players (especially the since-traded Willy Adames, whom he considers his little brother), and getting back in a routine — “This is my sanctuary,” he said — has been a huge help. So is being back in St. Petersburg, where he has many friends who also provide support.

“Without that I wouldn’t be in the place that I am now,” Archer said. “And I’m in a lot better mental state than I was a few weeks ago.”

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Chris Archer spoke on a Saturday Zoom call about the recent passing of his mother, Donna.
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Chris Archer spoke on a Saturday Zoom call about the recent passing of his mother, Donna. [ Times ]

One of the last things Donna talked to Archer about was having fun when he played, and he will be thinking about what she said when he gets back on the mound, hopefully by early July.

“My mom, she’s a very spiritual person,” he said. “She always felt like afterlife on Earth was a better place. I know that she’ll have the best seat in the house through the rest of my life, through baseball, through me continuing to grow as a human being. And, most importantly, all the things that she instilled in me. …

“So definitely can’t wait to get out there and contribute to this team, but also go out there and have fun in her honor because that’s what she always wanted me to do.”

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Archer, who signed a one-year, $6.5 million contract to rejoin the Rays 2½ years after being traded to Pittsburgh, said the tendinitis in his forearm that cut short his April 10 start is gone. The task now is building his arm up to be ready for games, with his initial role — whether as a starter or a multi-inning reliever — factoring into the timetable for his return.

“We’re trending upward,” he said. “I would love to be back by the time July starts. It’s just unpredictable right now.”

Archer will continue rehabbing and trying “to adjust to this new life.” His parents (who are his natural grandparents but raised him from birth and adopted him at age 2), were planning to spend the summer in St. Petersburg watching games; Ron was headed down Saturday solo.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced,” Archer said. “(It) puts all other adversity in perspective. I think anybody who’s gone through a similar family situation understands that.”

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