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Indians pitcher Luis Pollorena won game of life by beating childhood leukemia

Luis Pollorena hasn’t allowed an earned run with the Indians.
Luis Pollorena hasn’t allowed an earned run with the Indians.

Luis Pollorena doesn’t say he almost died from childhood leukemia.

There’s no almost about it, Pollorena claims.

“I was dead,” Pollorena said. “The flat line went off for about a minute or so.”

Given a second chance at life, Pollorena approaches each day with gratitude, knowing better than most that nothing is guaranteed.

“I’m glad to be up today and I’ll be glad to … wake up tomorrow,” Pollorena said.

Two of Pollorena’s biggest dreams came true in June, when the Texas Rangers drafted him in the 23rd round and he pitched at the College World Series for Mississippi State, which lost in the championship series to UCLA.

The 5-foot-8 left-hander started his professional career with the Rangers’ Arizona Rookie League team following the CWS. After pitching 8 2/3 innings and posting an earned-run average of 1.04, he was promoted two weeks ago to the Spokane Indians. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in eight innings with Spokane.

Pollorena earned a win on Aug. 4 in his first appearance with the Indians, during a tense game with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. But “tense” to describe a baseball game is a relative term for someone who faced life-and-death situations as a child.

Pollorena, a Laredo, Texas, native, was an active child until age 4, when his parents, Oscar and Maria, noticed that he would fall asleep while playing. He also started bruising over the lightest bumps.

Doctors diagnosed leukemia, leading to weekly chemotherapy sessions in Monterrey, Mexico, and a daily regimen of 50 or more pills.

The treatments didn’t stop him from playing his favorite sport.

“I started when I was 3 and I’ve been playing ever since,” Pollorena said. “When I had cancer I got a game-winning hit in T-ball, but it wouldn’t count unless I stepped on first base. It took about 10 minutes for me to get there, with my mom and dad at first cheering me on. That’s when the cancer was really taking a toll on me.”

In 1997, at age 6, the Make-a-Wish Foundation arranged for the Pollorenas to travel to Seattle so Luis could meet his favorite player, Ken Griffey Jr.

“That was right in the middle of everything,” Pollorena said. “I’d lost all my hair already. It was hard to get around, but I wasn’t going to miss a chance to meet Ken Griffey Jr.”

The memory flooded back earlier this month when Pollorena returned to Seattle for the first time in 16 years, to catch his connecting flight to Spokane.

At its worst, the disease put Pollorena in the hospital for more than two months. One fateful day, with his parents by his side, Pollorena’s monitors indicated that he had slipped away.

Luis said he remembers talking to God and hearing, “You don’t belong here. I have a plan for you.”

His parents say they were calling for assistance when an older woman they didn’t know entered the room and started touching Luis’ arms, legs and head. They say she told them not to worry, that Luis would be fine, and she left the room as abruptly as she’d arrived. When she exited, Luis’ eyes opened.

“My dad walked out to find her and she was gone,” Pollorena said. “She was gone in 2 seconds.

“Two weeks later, the doctor said there was nothing wrong with me.”

Pollorena goes through blood work, annual checkups and physicals to verify that he still in remission.

“To this day, they haven’t found anything besides that I’m short,” he said. “But I’ve always been the shortest guy on the team. I just play with heart.”

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