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Twins' coach Ingram still beating the percentages

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist
The Twins are off to a tough start, no doubt. But there are a few shining lights, and one of them is roving between their Triple-A Rochester and Double-A New Britain clubs.

"I've taken pills that basically are designed to tear up your immune system so the other drugs can work," Riccardo Ingram told me this spring. "You've gotta tough it out."

Those last five words would be enough on their own merit if Ingram were advising one of the hitters he coaches in the Twins system as a roving hitting instructor, or the Twins themselves.

But Ingram, 45, was talking about himself, and fighting back from the cancerous brain tumor that struck him in 2009. In a happy and touching case of man-beats-tumor, Ingram is back in uniform and feeling great this spring.

If you followed the Twins or the Tigers in the mid-1990s, Ingram's probably is a familiar name. An outfielder from Georgia Tech drafted in the fourth round by Detroit in 1987, Ingram was one of those guys who ascended through the minors and then spent what seemed an eternity fighting for that elusive 25th spot on a major-league roster.

He finally got it, briefly, in 1994, appearing in 12 games for the Tigers, and parlayed that into four more games with the Twins in 1995. In 35 career plate appearances, he batted .194 (6 for 31) with three RBIs.

An extremely personable man with a knack for communication, Ingram found new life as a hitting coach in the Twins system and ascended to their Triple-A Rochester club in '09.

That's when the searing headaches began.

He went to the University of Rochester (N.Y.) for a biopsy during the '09 season, learned he had a cancerous tumor and was referred to the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy, who passed away at 77 from a similar tumor, was treated there. That's where he should go, too, the Twins told him.

"I knew I had bad headaches," Ingram said. "But it was bad because my wife is a high school science teacher."

Translation: Allison Ingram wasted no time in firing up the Internet and spending some serious time with Google back home in Dunwoody, Ga.

And the results were horrifying. What she read was that 90 to 95 percent of brain tumor patients with Ingram's type of cancer -- Grade 4 glioblastoma -- died within a year.

"Funny story," Ingram said, smiling his smile that lights up a room. "I said, '90 percent'? She said, 'Yeah, 90 to 95 percent.'"

"I guess I'll be in that 5 to 10 percent," Ingram told his wife.

"You're a sick man," his wife told him.

Ingram can classify this as a "funny story" today for one reason: He's back in uniform, and underneath that half-moon scar atop his head where doctors went in and removed the tumor, things are really good.

The tumor is gone. The only residue left is scar tissue.

Ingram's wife and two daughters, Kacey (18) and Kristen (16), along with an unwavering faith, helped him through the darkest hours.

"They were inspirational," Ingram says. "I didn't care what the statistics said. My whole life, I've lived in a game of statistics.

"People told me my chances of getting to the big leagues was a real low percentage, but I got there. I didn't stay long, but I got there.

"Stats don't mean much. It's your will."

Ingram fought through six weeks of radiation treatment. The pills that were designed to tear up his immune system. Chemotherapy. From Duke University to Atlanta's Piedmont Hospital, near his Georgia home, that was Ingram's swing path 12 months. Shuttling from one hospital to the next, looking to hit the sharpest-breaking curve he'd ever faced.

Now? His latest MRI, taken last week, was absolutely clean. Every MRI since last October? Clean.

He was cleared last October for full activity, and his doctors are monitoring him through this October. Every eight weeks, he gets an MRI. And if all is still good this October, he'll get checked every four months instead of every two.

This July will mark three years since the initial, as he calls it, "episode." The only thing he's taking now is a pill for his blood pressure because the chemotherapy spiked that blood pressure.

He resumed his normal workouts when doctors green-lighted him last October, and he's lost some weight through his shoulders and about 15 pounds overall. But he still looks like he could step in the box and take a few hacks ... and send a baseball where most of the rest of us couldn't.

"We'll get to October this year and see where we are," he said. "But I think it's going to be all right. The family is doing great. Everything's back to normal -- normal, as far as we know it."

He ran into Torey Lovullo this spring, his first roommate with the Tigers.

"I can't believe it," Lovullo told him. "You look great."

Ingram is getting a similar reaction from old friends everywhere who know what he's been through. It's the beautiful thing about baseball: The stats often say one thing ... and the outcome is something else entirely.
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