TAMPA -- Brett Butler survived oral cancer after his doctors said he probably wouldn’t. Now the new third-base coach for the Marlins said he is pulling for former NFL and University of Miami quarterback Jim Kelly to do the same.
“If he wanted to talk about it with me, I’d love to,” Butler said. “I try to make myself available to people after they’re first diagnosed, to give them hope and say, ‘Listen, this is what I went through. I’m further along, and I’m OK, and I’m living a normal life.’ ”
Kelly’s wife, Jill, revealed last week that her husband’s cancer had returned, eight months after part of his jaw and some of his teeth were removed. Earlier this week, doctors called off surgery and chose instead to treat his cancer with radiation and chemotherapy.
“Because of complexity and aggressive nature of this cancer and after more scans and tests, the plan has changed,” Jill Kelly wrote on her Facebook page.
Doctors said Kelly’s cancer is treatable and are optimistic for a full recovery.
According to the National Cancer Institute, studies indicate more than 40,000 new cases of oral cancer will be diagnosed this year in the United States, and more than 8,000 will die from the condition. Those afflicted have a five-year survival rate of about 60 percent.
In addition to Butler and Kelly, other prominent athletes who have suffered from oral cancer include Babe Ruth and Jim Thorpe.
Though the direct cause of Butler’s cancer was never established, he said using chewing tobacco as a young player was the likely culprit. Like many baseball players, Butler used chewing tobacco — but only for a couple of years. He gave it up when a young fan approached him and, while asking for an autograph, proudly told Butler he also used smokeless tobacco, just like him.
Butler was diagnosed with carcinoma of the tonsils at age 38, two months into the 1996 season, his 16th in the majors.
“Initially, it’s shock,” Butler said.
Butler underwent surgery, traveled to Mexico for treatment not approved in the United States, and continued with radiation and chemotherapy upon returning to the States. He was back on the field for the Los Angeles Dodgers by September of the ’96 season.
That year also happened to be Kelly’s last in the NFL.
Though they played different sports and didn’t know one another, Butler’s and Kelly’s playing careers overlapped.
“I don’t know Jim, but I know him well enough by the way he played that he’s going to attack it [cancer] just like he did on the football field,” Butler said.
Butler said he would be happy to talk to Kelly about what he could be facing.
“He’s going to go through ‘mind monsters,’ and unless somebody has been through the process, it’s hard to talk to them,” Butler said. “I’ve been through it.”
Rainout in finale
The Marlins’ closed out spring training with a rainout Saturday — and their first winning Grapefruit League record since 2008.
Their record of 18-12-2 was good for second in the Grapefruit League standings, trailing only Tampa Bay.
Advice from Jeter
Jose Fernandez received a bit of sage baseball advice during a chance encounter with Derek Jeter on Friday, and the words from the Yankees legend stuck with the Marlins’ 21-year-old pitching ace.
“He told me, ‘You can never be satisfied,’ ’’ Fernandez said. “Sometimes I think you feel like, ‘OK, I’m in the big leagues.’ And sometimes I think you sit back a little bit [and take things for granted].”
Since Fernandez didn’t make the Panama trip with the Marlins when they faced the Yankees, Friday was the first time he had the opportunity to meet the shortstop, who is retiring after this season — his 20th in the majors. Fernandez — last year’s NL Rookie of the Year — said he approached Jeter, the 1996 AL Rookie of the Year, like a nervous kid.
“I don’t want to bother you,” Fernandez said he told Jeter. “I asked him for a ball. And he was like, ‘Never be satisfied.’ Like I said, from what I see, you think you’re in the big leagues. You know, you’re already on the team. I don’t want to get hurt, and you lose that competitiveness. I can’t lose that.”
• Though he hasn’t played since Monday due to a mild groin injury, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria will be in the Opening Day lineup on Monday night, according to manager Mike Redmond.
With Rafael Furcal headed to the disabled list, Christian Yelich will lead off. Redmond said that means Hechavarria could bat second, followed by Giancarlo Stanton and Jeff Baker, who will be the Opening Day second baseman against Colorado lefty Jorge De La Rosa.
• The Marlins will make a couple of moves on Sunday to make room on their 40-man roster for reserve outfielder Reed Johnson and long reliever Kevin Slowey.
One of those openings will be created when outfielder Brian Bogusevic is designated for assignment.