Editor's Note: This story was originally published on Nov. 3, but we're re-featuring it because there was a Sunday night. If you attended and snapped some photos, you can add them to this article by clicking the "Submit Photo" button below.
This past summer, Derrick Keller was doing something he had done virtually his whole life—playing baseball—but noticed he was getting tired a lot faster than normal and suffering headaches after games.
At first, the standout and soon-to-be college player at Southwest Minnesota State University was embarrassed because he thought he was just out of shape. But when the fatigue and headaches persisted, he decided to see a doctor, thinking he might have sustained a concussion during a recent head-first slide.
What Keller learned on Aug. 1, just a day after a game, was a complete surprise—he had leukemia.
“I was in shock,” Keller said. “I’ve been healthy all my life. How could this happen to me?”
Keller was admitted to the hospital, where he spent 12 days getting chemotherapy treatment. After being allowed to return home for a while, Keller was re-admitted in mid-September, and he spent the next 40 days in the hospital.
“Toward the end, it was pretty tough,” Keller said.
Despite the challenging circumstances, those who know Keller well said he kept a positive attitude, always thinking about how he could beat the disease.
“He basically said, ‘It’s not going to ruin one day,’” said former youth baseball coach and longtime family friend Kyle McNary. “He refused to show that it’s bothering him.”
That spirit, along with Keller’s father having a history as a boxer, led a group of St. Louis Park baseball parents to come up with an event called The Nov. 27 benefit dinner will feature former Minnesota Twins Gene Larkin and Scott Leius, as well as a number of sports-related prizes available in a drawing.
McNary, who coached Keller between the ages of 10 and 16, said all the boys on the team, as well as their parents, grew very close over the years.
“They really just bonded like a family,” he said.
Now, McNary said that family is “in Derrick’s corner for this fight.”
“It’s very special that people would do that,” Keller said. “I was speechless when I first heard about (the benefit).”
Keller likely won’t be able to attend the benefit himself—he’s scheduled to have a bone marrow transplant within the next few weeks and will need plenty of rest afterward—but he did say he is slowly improving, day by day.
By next fall, he hopes to do what he planned on doing this fall—enroll in his first college classes. The following spring, he hopes to be on the Southwest Minnesota State baseball team. There, he'll have some kinship—Southwest Minnesota State baseball coach Paul Blanchard had Hodgkins disease when he was 21.
“I was going through the stuff he’s going through now,” Blanchard said of the hospital visits and chemotherapy.
Blanchard said he’s been impressed with Keller’s personality since he first started recruiting him, and he’s confident he can beat leukemia. When Keller is ready physically, the coach said there will be a spot waiting for him on the team.
“I’m just anxious for him to get healthy and start living a normal life,” Blanchard said. “He’s battled this thing, and he’s going to come out a better person.”