A poignant Father's Day for Hall
D-backs CEO deals with father's pancreatic cancer
PHOENIX -- It was supposed to be a routine procedure to clear a blockage. A quick endoscopy that would return Derrick Hall's father Larry to full health.
Twenty minutes into the procedure, the doctor came out to talk to Hall and his mother, Annetta. It was not what they had expected going in, the doctor explained. It was pancreatic cancer.
All cancer is bad, but pancreatic is the worst of the bunch. By the time it is diagnosed in the majority of cases, it is already far advanced.
"Our jaws dropped," said Hall, the D-backs team president and CEO, of that night late in 2008. "He's 66, far too young to have his life taken from him. He does not deserve this. He's strong, he's trying to survive. It's remarkable."
Larry has endured a brutal surgery and difficult procedures since his diagnosis. It's been a rough go for the entire Hall clan.
Hall often talks about wanting D-backs fans to enjoy the experience of coming to Chase Field whether the hometown team wins or loses. The fan experience is his main focus.
This past Opening Day, Hall was reminded why.
The D-backs beat the Rockies, 9-8, in front of a sellout crowd that afternoon, but neither of those facts were what mattered most to Hall. It was the presence of his parents that made the day special.
"He was wiped out at the end, but I could tell for those three hours he was worry-free," Hall said. "He wasn't thinking about the cancer at all. He was glued to the team and to the play on the field. It helped my mother, too.
"I always talk about the escape that baseball provides for people and I watched it firsthand. I love Opening Day and I loved beating the Rockies, but what was more special was watching my dad, watching the pain-free look for the first time in so long. He loves this game so much. I wish he could be around another 20 years to watch it."
Larry was a good baseball player at Henderson State College in Arkansas. The St. Louis Cardinals wanted to sign him after his collegiate career was over -- this was in the days before the First-Year Player Draft -- but Larry and Annetta were going to start a family.
So Larry went into the newspaper business and built a successful career in Las Vegas where he and Annetta raised two boys.
"He was a great manager of people," Hall said. "He was a motivator. I was always wide-eyed watching him. I loved to go into work with him when I could, or go in on weekends. As a teenager I worked for him. I just thought he was a great example, he was a good role model that's for sure. He could have done what I'm doing now and probably with a lot more success just because of his love and passion for the sport, but also because of his intelligence and work ethic.
"He's definitely a people person. He cares about everyone. High ethics, high morals. Those are important characteristics."
Despite his decision not to play professionally, Larry never stopped loving baseball and he passed that passion onto his son.
It was Larry who saw the University of Ohio's sports management program on ESPN and called Hall to tell him it would be a great way to launch his career in baseball. It was Larry who predicted his son's rapid rise in the game each step of the way. The pride was evident in their conversations.
"The reason I'm in baseball is because of him," Hall said. "His love for the game became my love for the game. Unfortunately as I've gotten busier in my career I haven't been able to engage as much as I would like to or used to. Earlier in my career I was calling him with everything, the people I met, the stories I heard. He loved it. He wishes he could hear more. I think too often we don't spend enough time sharing stories and parts of our lives with our parents and loved ones."
Baseball is the one sport not governed by a clock, a game could theoretically go on forever. Sadly the same cannot be said for life. The priority in the Hall family now is making sure they make the most of the time that is left, however long that is. D-backs managing general partner Ken Kendrick recently told his workaholic CEO that he should plan on taking a day each week to fly to Las Vegas to spend time with his dad.
That's what Hall will try to do, taking one of his and wife Amy's three kids with him each time. Recently their 7-year-old daughter Kylie wrote in a journal for school, "Poppy has cancer and he's not doing well. I wish he would live 100 more years. He's so funny and sweet and he plays Go Fish with me."
Those are the memories Hall wants his children to hang onto and continue to make in the coming months.
As for his dad, especially on this Father's Day, Hall wants his father to remember something he told him one night this past winter when they almost lost him.
"You question as a parent whether you did a good job," Hall said. "I want him to know that in looking at my brother and I, he should be proud. He needs to know he's been a great father. He did a great job."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.