COLORADO SPRINGS – On a sunny Thursday afternoon, Dom Morelli is all smiles as he strolls to the mound for the Doherty Spartans. He’s getting the start against Pine Creek, a team that is more than capable of winning the Class 5A Colorado Springs Metro League title.

A win against the Eagles was always going to be a tall task, but considering the opponent that Morelli pitches against on a daily basis, they’re a cupcake matchup.

Morelli has Stage 2 Hodgkins Lymphoma.

He received his diagnosis in late February after going to the doctor to look at what everyone believed was a dislocated rib. It was his mom that suggested they get an x-ray and when the imaging came through, it was apparent that something was wrong.

“When the lady came back in, she was terrified,” Morelli said. “She said, “I’m sending you to the ER, you have a huge muscle mass in your chest.’ My jaw, my heart just dropped. I knew something wasn’t good just by the way they were acting.”

A million thoughts raced through Morelli’s head. This isn’t a cold that runs through the hallway of every school every year. This wasn’t COVID-19, the illness that stopped the entire world dead in its tracks.

This is cancer. This is cancer affecting a teenager who finds happiness out on the baseball field.

Cancer sucks. But it’s also maybe the toughest out Morelli will have to get in his entire life.

“It was pretty earth shattering,” Spartans coach Andy Storm said. “I was definitely shocked and surprised, and then of course concerned. Dom’s a great kid. I’ve had him for the last four years and he’s just a super kid from a super family. I knew that with his attitude – and I wouldn’t wish wish this on anybody – but he’s the kid that can battle this and can fight this.”

Baseball can’t be ignored as a tool that’s going to help Morelli in this battle. Even amidst the diagnosis, while there were certainly concerns about health and life and everything else that is tied to a life-threatening illness, he still had his favorite sport on his mind.

“That was the first thing I asked when they diagnosed me actually was can I still play baseball,” Morelli said. “[Everyone in the room is] looking at me like I’m stupid or something.”

Far from it. He’s just driven and doesn’t want anything taking him away from what he loves to do, regardless of how serious the circumstances. Baseball is more than a game for Morelli right now, it’s a distraction and it’s a motivator. Each time he pulls on his Doherty uniform and takes his place in the dugout before a game, he serves as a reminder to his teammates and coaches that life is very much worth living.

“That’s one of the things that I’ve gotten through his parents from his doctors, is his mental health is just as important as his physical health,” Storm said. “And so that’s why he’s out here whenever he feels like it or when he’s not sick or not hurt.”

He misses the occasional game and practice whenever he has chemotherapy. While it hurts him to be away from the team, everyone is aware that the bigger battle has to take focus every now and then. But the moment he feels up to it, he gets right back to his team to prepare for their next game and his next start on the mound.

From the long-term view, there is a timeline for his recovery so long as he continues to progress well. By late August there is hope that the cancer can be gone from his body. But he insists that as long as he sticks to the game plan of his treatment, that he can beat that mark by a few weeks. There can be some validity to that hope in a couple weeks when he heads to Denver for one of his big checkups.

“If there’s obvious improvement, I can end up being like six weeks early [in my recovery],” he said. “It can even be late July, they said.”

For right now, Morelli and his teammates savor every minute that he suits up for a baseball game. When he pitches, he gets hugs from his coaches and slaps on the back from his teammates. They stress to him that they’re all happy that he’s out there. Cancer can take a lot away from anyone, especially a 17-year-old kid.

But Morelli refuses to let it take baseball from him. It’s more than a game for Doherty at this point. It’s a source of a bond rooted in love and family.

“Dom’s out here, we get to play together and enjoy the game on a larger level because we won’t always get to do it,” Storm said. “It can get cut short whether it be from an injury or an illness or whatever, but [this is a reminder to] enjoy where your feet are today and be able to enjoy the game.”

Morelli is savoring every moment he spends with his team on a baseball field. But make no mistake, he fully intends on striking cancer out.

(Dan Mohrmann/