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Larry Stone: After scary year with cancer, Angie Mentink savors daily drumbeat of baseball

By Larry Stone Seattle Times

SEATTLE – On Tuesday, Angie Mentink sat on a “Women in Baseball” panel at Safeco Field, offering insight, inspiration and humor as she discussed her 21-year career covering the Mariners for ROOT Sports.

“You should act like you belong, because you do,” she advised women who aspire to a career in baseball. Later, reflecting on being a mother of two boys (age 11 and 13) and a full-time anchor and reporter, she said, “You can do it all and love it.” She drew laughs when she told of the producer who once told her – in a well-meaning way, she insisted – “You’re not hot enough to be a token female.”

Those affirmations flowed easily from Mentink, who said later with a smile that she welcomes a change from the topic that dominated her life for much of the last year.

“In the most amazing and glorious way, I really talked about my boobs and nothing else for weeks,” she said. “You know where people are coming from and why they’re asking, but I was happy when the conversation finally went to baseball or my kids. Or anything else.”

Mentink and the rest of the panel – Mariners area scout Amanda Hopkins, Mariners coordinator of professional development Leslie Manning, and Mariners senior vice president of sales Frances Traisman – told of how they persevered to forge their way in a male-dominated domain. It was the second year for the well-attended and enthusiastically received forum, moderated by baseball writer Meg Rowley.

Mentink has the added perspective of being a breast cancer survivor, a moniker that became official when her six-month tests came back clean.

“I really should update my Twitter,” she said wryly.

Mentink’s battle has played out publicly, ever since she tweeted on Sept. 6 of last year: “Talk about ungrateful, after everything I did for my boobs, today I find out they are trying to kill me. Yeah so ummm I have #breastcancer.”

Mentink, at age 44, had gone in for what she thought was a routine mammogram. It was far from routine, as a series of further tests and a biopsy soon revealed. She was in the shower, with her phone stationed on the windowsill, when the fateful call came. She describes drying off her ear to receive the surreal news, and then thinking they must have the wrong person.

Her husband, Jarrett, a professor at Seattle Pacific University, tried to comfort her. Mentink describes Jarrett alternately as a “saint,” a “doll,” an “absolute champ” and “my rock” – a noted hypochondriac who embraced the role reversal.

“Instead of me always saying, ‘You’re fine, you’re fine,’ now he was having to say, ‘You’re fine. Nothing can be wrong with you, you’re OK.’ It was really awesome. He was great with the kids, great with everything.”

Surgery occurred on Oct. 5 – her mother’s 70th birthday. Radiation ended in mid-December, which the family commemorated with a 10-day trip to Hawaii despite Mentink being, in her words, “burnt to a crisp” from the treatment.

Mentink’s positive attitude and the humor she projected throughout the ordeal has been noble, though she readily admits that her private moments were not always nearly so upbeat.

“I read once that the funniest people are the most depressed and thought, that was me!” she said. “You feel sorry for yourself, you’re sad, you’re mad it happened, you can’t understand why it happened.”

The outpouring of support from the Mariners, co-workers, colleagues and fans overwhelmed her, she said. Her boss, ROOT Sports executive producer, Jon Bradford, was particularly supportive.

“I literally felt like, gosh, I don’t deserve this,” she said. “I just felt so well taken care of. It was really cool.”

Two things sustained her, Mentink believes. One was her eternal optimism, which has always been part of nature.

“I think everything is going to work out,” she said. “And maybe that’s ignorance. I didn’t think I was going to be sick, either. But it did nothing to damage my eternal optimism.”

The other factor was that the illness honed her sense of what was really important in her life.

“You really get a good idea of, this is what I care about,” she said. “My arms only open so wide, and my husband and my kids are going to be the focus. I’m going to try to be a better person and focus on that.”

Mentink said that her cancer is “the best cancer” to get because it is slow growing. But that has a downside as well, in that she has to take medicine for several more years. Right now she is on an estrogen blocker that helps keep the cancer cells at bay.

The first major hurdle passed was the clean six-month checkup.

“I thought it was going to be clear, but then again, I never thought I was going to have breast cancer,” she said. “Hey, life’s full of surprises.”

But Mentink is reveling in the fact that life is full of joy, too – particularly when you’ve been forced to ponder your mortality. Returning to the Mariners beat this season, she savors the normalcy of baseball’s routines – the “steady drumbeat,” as she calls it, a comfort after the maelstrom of 2017.

The fact that the Mariners have contended all year with a group of players she genuinely enjoys being around has added to her fulfillment. She has also become an advocate for early detection of breast cancer.

“I think it’s been a tremendous year, a fun year with so many things to appreciate,” she said. “I’ve been given a different perspective on things.”

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