The meeting was as unexpected as the news itself.
When word suddenly spread through the Red Sox clubhouse Friday that manager John Farrell wanted to gather the team to talk, hardly anyone knew why.
“I don’t think anyone knew what was going on,” said Mookie Betts.
It had been four days since Farrell had surgery to repair a hernia.
“I knew he had his surgery,” Betts said.
Then Farrell slowly let the words come out.
Since Tuesday, Farrell had been holding on to the news that he had been diagnosed with Stage 1 lymphoma. The only people who knew were Farrell and the doctors who treated him.
Telling his team was as hard as anything.
“He kept on talking and then he finally said it,” said Betts. “Everybody took a deep breath, like, ‘Hold on.’ You don’t hear that type of stuff.”
The room stood still.
“Guys were sitting around the meeting and just sitting there,” said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. “You just care. We all care about each other and the voice of your team, leader of your team says that, it hits you. So we’ve got to get him better.”
Finding out that Farrell, who led the Sox to a World Series title in 2013 and worked through the pains of a losing season a year ago and another trying campaign this year, was now battling cancer at age 53 caught the team off-guard and left them processing a wave of emotions just hours before they took the field against the Seattle Mariners.
“Obviously a lot of guys’ response [was] upset,” said Pedroia. “It’s our manager, the leader of our team. We’re family. We’re together so much and when he starts out by telling us that, your heart just stops. Obviously anybody in that room would do anything for John and we know he’s going to get through this and we’ll all get through this together and we’ll do anything to help him out.”
The players were stunned but fully supportive.
“You know you hear about it, but for it to really happen up close and personal is kind of scary — actually really scary,” Betts said. “But I’m going to keep him in my prayers. I know he’s a strong person so I know he’ll get through it.”
Farrell, typically stern and businesslike, was emotional. He fought back tears. His voice cracked as he spoke. He was facing the reality that he would be away from both the team and the game during nine weeks of treatment.
“I’ll be honest with you, the thing that’s going to [stink] is not being around in this capacity,” Farrell said. “But I know that there’s other ways that I can stay actively involved and that’ll be a really needed diversion going through this.”
Still, it was easier for Farrell, a baseball lifer, to focus on the game.
“The priority of taking care of health is first and foremost,” he said. “I don’t want it to be a distraction to their work that they need to get done.”
But it was impossible for the team to not feel the impact.
Two of the few players who went into the meeting knowing what they were about to hear were David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez. It was Ramirez who broke the news to Ortiz just before the meeting.
“He was crying telling me about the situation,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz’s relationship with Farrell goes back to when Farrell was hired as Boston’s pitching coach prior to the 2007 season.
“Cancer is something that it doesn’t matter where it comes from, it impacts you,” Ortiz said. “So we’re going to give John all the support that we can give him so he can get through this and be back next year and hopefully everything goes well with him.
“We’ve got a big family around here and definitely when it comes down to health issues, we want to make sure that everything goes OK.”
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington was on a brief layover on the way to Greenville, S.C., when he saw Farrell’s name flash across his phone. When Farrell told him the diagnosis, Cherington took a few minutes to let it sink in and then immediately started figuring out how to get back to Boston as soon as he could.
They talked Thursday, then again Friday morning.
“I was trying to get an opportunity yesterday and this morning just to talk to him as a human being, as a friend, and let him know that I’m with him, that he’ll get through it — we’ll get through it — together,” Cherington said.
Farrell’s news was another blow for a team that’s spent the season swallowing bitter pills, but to Pedroia it put things in perspective.
“We go through a lot together every day,” Pedroia said. “He’s in it with us. The ups and downs, the everythings. He’s a guy that he just doesn’t deal with what’s going on in the field, he cares about your family, he cares about your kids and things going on at home. He’s managing 25 guys’ lives, not just baseball. So he’s a pretty important part to each and every one of us.”
John Farrell's diagnosis
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.