Wife's illness gives Ordonez new outlook

Wife's illness gives Ordonez new outlook

The rave reviews have been flowing about Magglio Ordonez and his resurgent season. His manager calls this the best he has seen from his All-Star outfielder as an all-around player. Scouts and opponents say he looks healthier than he did last year, when power seemed to desert his bat and he had a tentative stride in his step.

But those who know him know it's not just about his health. It's about his wife being healthy.

A year ago, what began as a sore throat that wouldn't go away and a visit to the doctor put that health very much into question.

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"You always hear about cancer," Ordonez said, "but you never pay attention to it, because it's a thing you never think is going to happen to you. But it can happen to anybody."

And it happened to Dagly Ordonez last spring, out of the blue.

Plenty of Tigers fans watched Magglio Ordonez struggle through the first half of last season. Many wondered what was going through his mind when he swung through a pitch or took a called third strike.

A small circle of friends, coworkers and doctors really knew what was on his mind. He was thinking of his wife and her battle with cancer. She's fine now, and the sense of relief is evident in Magglio's voice whenever he talks about it. But he doesn't discuss it often.

He kept quiet about her situation, at least publicly, for virtually all of last season. Now that she's fine, he's hoping some good can come out of their scare, and others can appreciate the value of early diagnosis.

Ordonez has learned to appreciate the fight of survivors.

"It's not easy. Most people who go through cancer, it's very difficult," Ordonez said. "They have to fight through this disease and they have to go through the hospital and go through all the tests. It's not easy. But you know, a lot of people are strong. They fight through it and they survive."

To call the Ordonezes longtime sweethearts might be an understatement. Magglio and Dagly have been married about 15 years, before Magglio broke into the big leagues with the White Sox. They have three children, ranging from a teenage son to a five-year-old daughter.

Though Magglio has dealt with injuries off and on in his career, Dagly had always been healthy. Neither had dealt with cancer in their families, he said. That's partly what made the diagnosis so jarring when they heard the news a year ago, right around this time.

The persistent sore throat was actually thyroid cancer. It was a relatively curable form, but dangerous enough that doctors wanted to operate as soon as they could.

Throughout Magglio's career, the Ordonezes had dealt with challenges, from knee surgery to a less-than-cordial separation from the White Sox to a frigid reception from Venezuelans in America during the World Baseball Classic in 2009. This was different.

Once he heard the c-word, it wasn't about being a baseball player anymore.

"It's cancer," Magglio Ordonez said. "I mean, you never know. You hear that word cancer, what comes to you right away is, 'Am I going to die?' "

It wasn't only his wife in question, but the entire family. Magglio and Dagly have been inseparable through all of the twists and turns of his career.

"It was another event that we have to fight through," he said.

If it didn't hit home before, it did during treatment. Thyroid cancer is usually treated through surgery, but there was also a brief round of radiation therapy. Though Dagly was only in the hospital for a short time for surgery, she couldn't be around her family with the chemicals in her body.

For a brief time, Magglio was like a single parent. His teenage son, Magglio Jr., was around the clubhouse quite a bit. But Magglio Sr.'s mind was usually elsewhere. He left the team for a few days while Dagly underwent surgery, but even after he returned, there was little certainty. Whenever he had a free moment, kept in touch with his wife, hoping for the best.

What nobody really could say was how difficult it truly was for him at a time when people wondered whether he had lost his touch as a hitter.

"The thing is, you have to understand that life is first -- life, family," he said. "And the thing is, it's not easy when you're working or you're playing baseball, to try to focus mentally. You see last year at the beginning of the season, I was struggling. My mind wasn't on baseball. But you know, the support with family and friends, when you're in good hands with good doctors, [helps]."

While watching his wife fight, Ordonez saw what cancer patients of all sorts endure. He has been charitable on several fronts in his career, from establishing a scholarship fund for high school graduates in Detroit's Mexican Village neighborhood to serving at community events. He and Dagly served drinks at a Starbucks a few years ago to help raise money for various causes.

He was drawn to fighting cancer -- donating not just money but the hair he'd grown from 2006 until last summer. He put his hair up for auction on eBay, with the money going toward Imerman's Angels, a Chicago-based organization that matches cancer patients with survivors to provide support and inspiration.

He witnessed firsthand, through his wife and others, the power of a positive attitude. For someone who believes the mental approach means so much in baseball, he believes the same holds in the fight for life.

"You can have good hospitals and good doctors," he said, "but what cures is your own determination, your own body."

Dagly underwent two surgeries -- one in Florida in May, the other in Detroit in June. She received a diagnosis soon after that the cancer was gone. Aside from having to undergo exams every six months, she lives a perfectly healthy life. The hitting tear her husband went on over the season's final two months is more than coincidence.

His positive outlook is hard to miss. Whether or not he hits on a given day, the fact that he gets to go home means a lot.

"Like they say, you are a human being, and everything can happen to you," he said. "You never know. You have to appreciate life every day, you know?"

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.