SACKETS HARBOR Ryan Allen is happy, pitching well and enjoying life as a teenager again.
And most importantly, feeling healthy once more after a cancer scare last year that not only took a season of baseball away, but affected the way he lived his day-to-day life for nearly six months.
The Sackets Harbor junior has pitched two stellar games for the Patriots to begin the Frontier League season.
In his first start against LaFargeville on April 24, Allen struck out 12, walked one and allowed three hits in a 4-0 complete-game shutout.
His next start came this past Monday against LaFargeville again. This time he fanned 14, didnt walk a batter and allowed just seven hits in a 4-3 route-going victory.
His fastball is working back up to normal velocity, and his curve ball is again breaking sharply and keeping hitters off-balance.
It was so much fun just to smell the grass and hear the bat hit the ball again, Allen said. Missing something Ive done all my life was very tough. But now, I look forward to every day a lot more.
Allen, the last of the four Allen brothers who have made their mark at Sackets Harbor, said having a life-and-death scare has also made him stronger.
If I have a bad day now on the mound, Im a lot more forgiving of myself, he said. Im still really competitive, but now I realize that sports comes second, and family and health is always the first priority.
Allens bad luck actually began last November when he broke his leg during a preseason basketball scrimmage against Watertown. Projected as the starting point guard, Allen missed his entire sophomore season.
Just after basketball season ended, however, Allen noticed continuing pain in his back and went to see a doctor. The doctor told him a mole on his back could be melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. Most melanomas can be treated successfully if they are detected early. If not, it can spread to other parts of the body and is potentially a lethal form of cancer.
When doctors say cancer, it wakes you up quickly, Allen said. Me and my parents were in a state of shock for awhile. Then the doctor told us that if treated early, it is almost always curable, and that they thought they had caught it in time.
Allen went through a pair of biopsies on his back and the lymph nodes under his right arm.
For the back biopsy, he had a foot-long piece of back tissue taken away. He eventually needed a skin graft to replace the used tissue.
Fortunately, both biopsies came back negative. Allen is now tested every three months, and has been given a clean bill of health so far.
Doctors told Allen to avoid any physical activity until they gave the go-ahead. But I went out and shot a few hoops and made a couple of throws with my left hand (hes a right-handed pitcher) just to see if I could do it, he said.
By mid-June, Allen was healthy enough to start playing in a local wood-bat league. He admits now that the pitching part of the game came back rather easily. But Im still struggling a little at the plate. I just dont seem to have my timing down.
Allen was finally healthy through the soccer and basketball seasons this year. But he couldnt wait to don the Patriots baseball uniform again.
Baseball has been such an important part of me and my familys life, Allen said. To have that taken away was hard. I tried to go to a couple of games last year, but it was too tough.
This year, coach Paul Gibbs said hes seen a much healthier Allen on the field and a much more focused and mature Allen off the field.
Ryan has really taken his leadership role a lot more seriously, Gibbs said. Hes been willing to sacrifice his stats for the good of the team, and hes been willing to teach our younger kids how to play the game.
Ryan is so consistent with his pitches, he added. Hes always around the strike zone and has good command of every pitch.
Allen said his mechanics have been solid. Ive been able to hit the zone most of the time. Right now my fastball is around 76-78 miles per hour. Id like to get it back up to 81 or 82.
Allen has always been using a knuckle-curve, which he said he throws mostly on 0-2 counts out of the strike zone.
Having three older brothers who put their names in the Sackets Harbor record book serves as a lot of motivation for me, Allen said. I dont really feel the pressure to do what they did. But I guess Id like to rub it their faces a little, too.
A healthy and strong Allen may just do that before his Sackets Harbor career is over.