Andres Galarraga is confident he can beat cancer and again be a productive player for the Atlanta Braves.
Speaking publicly for the first time since he was diagnosed last month with a lymphoma in his lower back, the slugger on Wednesday thanked fans, teammates and other players for their support.
"That's really helped me stay positive," he said, adding that he has received thousands of letters and phone calls daily from as far away as his native Venezeula.
Among the players he's heard from are Eric Davis, Darryl Strawberry and Brett Butler, who all returned from bouts with cancer to rejoin their teams.
"That's probably the best medicine for me," he said.
The first baseman, who hit .305 with 44 homers and 121 RBI last season, wore sunglasses and a broad smile as he answered questions -- many of them in Spanish -- for about 45 minutes at the Braves' spring training complex at Disney World.
Galarraga said he was shocked when doctors discovered a cancerous tumor in his lower back, but that he was immediately assured he had a good chance for a full recovery.
"It was like bad news and good news at the same time," he said.
Galarraga began chemotherapy late last month. His second treatment is scheduled for Friday.
"It scared me a lot. But as soon as they said they had the medicine to treat it and make me 100 percent, that made me feel better right away."
The 37 year old slugger, who will miss all of this season, said the toughest part of visiting camp Wednesday was not being in uniform. He reiterated he is confident the illness is only a temporary setback for his career.
"I think, mentally, to be in uniform will help me have a good year," Galarraga said of playing again in 2000.
"It's good to see him talking upbeat and coming back as soon as he can," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "I think it would bring up more emotion if he looked different. He's still the same old Cat. It doesn't look like anything's wrong with him. He's still the same old happy-go-lucky person."
The Braves surprised Galarraga on Monday when two busloads of teammates visited him at his home in West Palm Beach.
"My wife opened the door. ... I said what's going on here," he said. "I didn't know if I should cry or feel happy. I was so shocked. That's helped a lot," said Galarraga, flanked at a news conference by Braves manager Bobby Cox and an advisor, Fernando Cuza.
"We knew we were never going to replace Andres' playing ability or his presence as a person. ... He's a special guy, and you don't replace those types of people," Cox said.
"We're certainly going to miss im. Hopefully, he will be back next year. Certainly we're going to have his uniform number waiting. Hopefully, toward the end of the season we're doing well and in the playoffs and have another crack at the World Series, and he can be in the clubhouse with us. ... Having him around would be a great inspiration."
© 1999 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved