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A Cardinal's Comeback After having had cancer surgery in the spring, Eli Marrero is hitting his stride

Eli Marrero wasn't sure what to expect. Radioactive iodine
didn't sound like something he would want to be in the same room
with, let alone ingest. But two weeks after having his thyroid
gland removed because a cancerous mass had been discovered
there, Marrero, the Cardinals' rookie catcher, found himself
face-to-face with a tumbler of the stuff--and doctor's orders to
drain it because the poisonous concoction would kill any
remaining cancer cells. "I was thinking, Is it going to make my
hair fall out," he says. "Is it going to make me nauseous? I
didn't know what to expect."

As it turned out, the iodine wasn't nearly as bad as he feared,
though there was one side effect. "I had to stay away from my
wife for about two days because of the radioactivity," he says.
"I mean, I wasn't going to grow another hand or anything, but I
couldn't kiss her or have much contact with her."

The growth at the base of Marrero's neck was discovered during a
routine physical at the start of spring training, which Marrero,
24, had approached with the hope of landing at least a part-time
job with St. Louis. Tests showed there were malignant cells, and
so his thyroid was removed in St. Louis on March 6. It didn't
take long for Marrero to collect his thoughts afterward, however.
Lying in his hospital bed, he told his wife, Marisol, to get
ready to return to Florida. "I told her I didn't belong here," he
says. Two days later he was at the Cards' spring training complex
in Jupiter, playing catch with the St. Louis farmhands.

The Cardinals planned to bring Marrero back slowly. Without a
thyroid gland, his metabolism was knocked off kilter, leaving
him tired and moody at times. Daily medication now takes care of
that, but he couldn't begin taking the thyroid pills until the
iodine treatment was completed. Once he began to feel normal
again, in late March, he was sent to extended spring
training--although that didn't last long.

Cardinals catcher Tom Pagnozzi went on the disabled list with a
shoulder injury on April 13, and St. Louis had no choice but to
call up Marrero. In his first game, with all of one spring
training game and three extended-spring-training at bats under
his belt, he legged out a triple and homered against the Giants.
Marrero's adrenaline carried him through his at bats, but nothing
could ease the discomfort he felt behind the plate because of his
lack of conditioning. "When I was catching, I felt really bad,"
he says. "My legs weren't there, and balls I should have caught
real easily I couldn't get to. I felt like I had a big ol' tank

Marrero slowly played himself back into shape. He was sent to
Triple A Memphis on May 14, a couple of weeks after Pagnozzi
returned from the disabled list, but the Cards recalled him on
July 1. After going 3 for 6 with a home run against the Cubs last
Saturday, he was hitting .260 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 40
games, and he has been outstanding behind the plate. St. Louis's
ERA is 3.75 with him catching, 4.74 when he's not. "People lose
perspective," says first baseman Mark McGwire. "They get all
hyped up about other things about the game of baseball, but they
don't get hyped up about great stories like Eli Marrero's. I wish
people would reflect on that."


COLOR PHOTO: RON VESELY [Eli Marrero in game]