clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

From trades to chemotherapy to big league success; Connor Joe on his journey

There isn’t much Connor Joe hasn’t been through that this sport can throw at him.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

You’d be forgiven for having a hard time keeping track of Connor Joe once he left the organization that drafted him in 2014. Between numerous trades, a Rule 5 draft selection, being designated for assignment and free agency, his journey was somewhat less than conventional.

After being traded to the Atlanta Braves for Sean Rodriguez in August of 2017, it quickly becomes a veritable laundry list of transactions. Less than two months later, he was traded again to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he had his best MiLB season to date, earning a promotion to AAA hitting .300/.408/.528 in 2018.

Left unprotected that offseason, he was taken by the Cincinnati Reds in that year’s Rule 5 draft, never playing a game and instead being traded to the Giants. He made his MLB debut with San Francisco before being DFA’d after appearing in only eight games.

As a player selected in the Rule 5 draft, he was offered back to the Dodgers. He spent the remainder of the season in their Minor League system. He was a non-roster invitee to big league camp the following year but missed the entire season before electing free agency and signing with the Rockies shortly afterwards.

Getting his first true shot in Colorado, he spent parts of three seasons in Denver before being traded in the 2022 off-season back to the Pittsburgh Pirates this past offseason.

“It’s just business” Joe said from his locker before the game on June 10.

“The first one was the hardest, you build a lot of good relationships... I was rooming with the same guys for three or four years, so saying goodbye is tough.”

After that it got easier.

“Every clubhouse is very similar you know? Just 26 other dudes who love baseball, trying to win ballgames... as far as stability goes, it really comes from my family. No matter where I was, no matter what organization I was with, the stability came from them.”

Joe was drafted 39th overall coming out of the University of San Diego and was praised for both his line-drive swing and patient, all-fields approach.

That approach has paid off. Joe controls the zone well, posting impressive chase rate numbers. While his stat line has trailed off after his searing start to the season, they remain respectable, even in the midst of what started as a return to the mean that became an extended slump. He’s fielding a .767 OPS and mashing against lefties with an OPS of 1.009 to date.

Somewhat positionless as a prospect, even catching in college, Joe cites his frequent conversations and work with the coaching staff and Andrew McCutchen for his various successes in 2023.

“I was struggling, and Andrew approached me and talked to me, that’s huge for me... speaking up in advanced meetings about pitchers we’re facing, that’s really beneficial to have someone who’s faced nearly everyone in the league. Andrew’s got a lot of experience playing everywhere, in every park. I ask him ‘Hey what does the wind do here?’ and ‘How does the wall play?’ its invaluable information. I talk to him a lot. Tarrik Brock has done a really good job with me out there, practicing every situation that can come up in a game, so I feel prepared.”

Along his tumultuous path, Joe missed all of 2020, but not due to conventional injury. Although conventional injury would be preferred over the tremendously scary word that nobody wants to hear. Cancer.

After his invitation to Major League Spring Training with the Dodgers, a routine physical revealed something was wrong. After additional scans, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

“They [the Dodgers] invited me to big league camp, I had the chance to make the team, you go through these yearly physicals. They’re usually pretty mundane, that one happened to be not so normal.”

After having surgery to remove the cancerous mass, additional imaging was done to make sure nothing else was amiss, they found the cancer had spread to one of his lungs. The treatment plan was four separate week-long chemotherapy infusions over the span of three months.

During his second cycle of treatment Joe would lose his hair.

“I was playing cards with my wife, ran my hands through my hair and the hair came with it. I shaved my head right away. It was just the easiest thing to do.”

It hit Joe hard, as a kid he often was trying different hair styles and products.

“You’re used to having hair your whole life but that comes with it, [chemotherapy] it’s a badge of honor.”

After completing the treatment, Joe was declared cancer free in July of 2020

“Support is huge, you’ve got to lean on your support. My Family was huge. My friends were huge. You learn how big your circle is... I like to think my circle is small, I like to keep it that way, but the outpouring of support from that wider circle helped me to get through that journey.”

Those who know me know how this story was personal to me, since November of last year I have been battling brain cancer.

It’s exactly as harrowing and as terrifying as those words in that combination sound.

I had surgery to remove the mass back in March. I am currently about halfway through the main treatment, unsure of long-term results. At times I find it hard to continue on, not knowing if I should blow all my life savings in a month-long bender or plan for buying a house in 20 years is uniquely dreadful. There have been times where I have become so unhappy with it all that I have wished for death, but I can’t let this disease and its potential outcomes define me.

Slowly I am learning the same lessons that Connor Joe and millions of others before us have had to learn.

Accepting that shouldering this burden by myself isn’t healthy, learning how large my circle is, hair loss, the whole nine yards.

My hair began falling out in clumps in the press box on the day I was there to interview Joe, requiring multiple dejected trips to the trash can across the room to dispose of my fallen follicles.

But I will never let it stop me from growing, from chasing my dreams, or from enjoying my various passions.

There was a moment when I was interviewing Connor that caught me off guard, more of a candid discussion between two people with a shared experience than interview by that point, the discussion turned to certain dates.

There are certain dates along your path that you just don’t forget. Your diagnosis date, your surgery date, the date you started treatment — I was rattling these off when Joe stopped me to say,

“You’ll remember the day you’re declared cancer free forever too. It’s coming, and it’s going to be a great day.”

The thought of that day to that point, hadn’t even crossed my mind.