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Jeff Nelson’s comeback: Satisfying but tiring

Umpire Jeff Nelson returns to the game after being diagnosed with a form of testicular cancer.

By Dave Wright

Jeff Nelson was never so happy to see a ground-ball out in his life. Not that he had anything against Rondell White, whose roller to 3B Ross Gload was the last out in Kansas City’s 9-4 win over the Minnesota Twins Friday afternoon at the Metrodome in the opener of a day-night doubleheader. Rather, Nelson, the home plate umpire, had looked at 303 pitches and he was beat.

It was Nelson’s first game back in the major leagues after being out of action for nearly three months after being diagnosed with a form of testicular cancer. When the game was over, he felt satisfied but was also very weary.

"I was pretty whipped at the end today,” Nelson said.

When you are 42 years old and have been a major-league umpire since 1999, you have every reason to think life is nifty. And things were going along just fine for Nelson until one June day in Cleveland. "I hadn’t been feeling very good for a while and then things got worse,” he recalled. After visiting a doctor in Cleveland, Nelson went out and worked a game at third base. "But I could hardly move,” he said. "I knew something was really wrong.”

The Cleveland doctor had a pretty good idea what was going on. He told Nelson, a Twin Cities native, to head home and visit docs at the University of Minnesota. In quick order, he got the diagnosis: testicular cancer 2b semanoma. The words hit him hard. "You don’t start thinking about mortality at my age,” he admitted. "I was worried but the doctors told me it was very treatable.”