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Mets prospect Eric Orze on beating cancer twice: ‘The change of perspective on life that came out of it was very beneficial…’

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Eric Orze came to Port St. Lucie in 2022 eager to show his teammates and coaches that he deserved to be there. He didn’t come in as a blue-chip prospect, he hadn’t gone to a top college program and the Midwest native hadn’t grown up in a baseball hotbed like some of his teammates. Still, he wasn’t a complete unknown.

Orze beat cancer twice in college, making him the feel-good story of the 2020 MLB Draft. The determination he developed while battling testicular cancer and skin cancer also served him in baseball, but after receiving his first invitation to Major League spring training, the right-hander was a little too eager to show everyone his potential.

“I was a little naive,” Orze recently told the Daily News. “I didn’t understand what this really was like. I was still the college kid trying to prove like, ‘Hey, I’m good enough, I’ve got to outperform people to make the team and this and that.’ But that’s not the point. If you’re in this clubhouse, you have the ability to play with these guys. It’s not an accident that you get invited to this clubhouse for spring training.”

Spoiler alert: He didn’t make the team out of camp. He posted a 13.50 ERA in six Grapefruit League games and realized he had an “ego problem.”

“I was just riding this wave of momentum,” Orze said. “I had a good successful preseason, and I was thinking, ‘I’m gonna start my second year in the big leagues. I don’t care what anybody else says, I don’t care if this is how it works, or how it doesn’t — I’m going to make it happen.’

“It was just the wrong perspective.”

These days, the 26-year-old Orze is a little more realistic about things.

He received his third invite to the big league side of camp this spring and used it to prepare for the upcoming season instead of impressing everyone in the clubhouse. This year, Orze was sent back to minor league camp in the first round of cuts, but he expected this having seen the moves the Mets made to shore up the bullpen in the offseason.

It’s because of cancer that he now feels he is equipped to handle the extreme highs and lows that come with chasing the goal of making a career in professional sports. Cancer cares about your ego about as much as a middle-order slugger.

“Cancer was a blessing,” Orze said. “The optimism that came out of this, the change of perspective on life that came out of it was very beneficial for this kind of career.”

The idea of failure in baseball pales in comparison to the idea of failure with cancer.

Orze was diagnosed with testicular cancer in May 2018, right in the middle of his junior season at the University of New Orleans. With that came surgeries, complications and the discovery of a metastatic mole on his back. Within three months, he had been diagnosed with two forms of cancer.

Orze would miss the rest of the 2018 season and the entirety of the 2019 season. He finally made a return to competitive action in 2020, only to see the season wiped out by the COVID-19 shutdown. After years of uncertainty, his professional dreams finally became certain when the Mets selected him in the fifth and final round of the draft.

But nothing remains certain for long in baseball. Orze progressed well in 2021, but he struggled in 2022 and 2023. He routinely found himself falling behind in counts, unable to use the splitter that got him to pro ball. This contributed to 17 home runs allowed over the last two seasons.

There have been questions about whether or not Orze stalled out in Triple-A. But he’s not worried about it. He’s throwing his fastball around 95 and he’s confident in his ability to throw it for strikes.

“The main focus this year, every first pitch, I want to be 0-1,” he said. “I don’t care how it happens. If I can be 0-1 I’m going to be in a much better place to control the count and have success.”

Orze spent offseason training alongside teammates Jose Butto and Francisco Alvarez, with some established players like Jorge Soler in the group as well. He used that time to take information from Soler, Aroldis Chapman and others. He’s become adept at evolving his training and nutrition routines since the cancer diagnosis and feels as though he’s in a good place physically and mentally.

Orze overcame cancer twice and his own ego as a pro. Another year in Triple-A is just an opportunity for him to finally reach his big-league goal.

“If I continue to grow as a person, that’s going to reflect on the field as well,” Orze said. “Struggling was a good experience to go through.”