His mother dropped him off at the field at 2 p.m., the game started at 4 and around 6:30 Kyle Bancroft was being swarmed by his Stamford teammates after winning the game with a sacrifice fly to right field.
All pretty normal stuff that likely occurred at baseball fields all across the country that day.
The difference is, there is nothing normal about what it took for Bancroft to be there celebrating with his teammates on Stamford’s baseball field after beating New Canaan Wednesday.
Bancroft, a sophomore on the Stamford JV baseball team, is undergoing treatments for cancer as he plays this season for the Black Knights.
Bancroft has to miss a week of playing once every three weeks because his treatments are so draining. But every time he gets to put on the orange and black uniform and play baseball with his friends for a few hours, everything else he is dealing with drifts away.
“I feel pretty good. Not that bad. I get a little gassed once in a while but it is so nice to get out there and play,” Bancroft said. “The key for me is staying positive. I know I have to get through it, keep fighting and beat it. Baseball has been great. I get to come out here and play and the JV guys just treat me like one of the guys. I love baseball and I’m so happy to be playing.”
Bancroft has loved baseball since he began playing as a four year old. His passion for the game only got stronger as he made his way up through Stamford North Little League, into the Stamford Legion program and now at Stamford High.
His goal is to play varsity for the Black Knights and some believe he would already be there were he not battling cancer.
His parents are content seeing him play JV, thrilled he is on any field at all.
Bancroft is a broad-shouldered, strong player who generates easy power with his smooth swing; has soft, fast hands playing first base and understands the finer points of the game.
“He has four of the five tools, we just need to work on his speed,” Stamford JV coach Mike Buzzeo said. “I remember seeing him at tryouts. I didn’t know anything about him but saw his swing and said ‘that’s a sophomore I’ll never get on JV.’ He hits bombs and makes it look easy. In the field, the infielders know when they throw it across the diamond, Kyle will catch it. We are a different team when he is there.”
Bancroft is not always there.
He is currently in his fourth round of chemotherapy treatments, each of which is three weeks long.
In the first week of each cycle the severity of the treatments makes it impossible to play baseball.
In the second week, he plays, but can get tired. The third week, he is free of treatments and said that is when he feels best.
“You would never know something is wrong,” Buzzeo said. “The kid is so incredibly strong getting chemo and playing baseball. The more I learned about what he was going through, the more it inspired me. He acts like nothing is bothering him. It sucks that this is happening to one of the best people any of us knows.”
Bancroft is so quiet and set on just being one of the guys on the team, he rarely discusses his ordeal and never complains according to his parents Lisa and Scott Bancroft.
“He doesn’t like fanfare or attention on himself. He likes to work hard and do his thing,” Scott Bancroft said. “Kyle doesn’t say a lot. He’s a quiet kid. You can see the look on his face when he puts his uniform on. It’s a different look than he has at other times. This is giving him a sense of normalcy now that he’s back to it. He’s with his teammates and he’s always been a kid who loves his teammates. He always works hard for his coaches and his teammates and takes pride in putting the uniform on.”
Few people know exactly how much Bancroft has been through in the last year or would believe it if you told them.
While playing basketball and doing winter baseball workouts in December of 2019, Bancroft began having back pain.
Trips to chiropractors and other specialists could not determine the problem which Bancroft and his parents attributed to a strained muscle from sports.
In January 2020, Bancroft noticed a protrusion on his back.
A trip to Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital revealed every parents’ nightmare. Bancroft had a tumor eroding the bone on his 11th rib.
He was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, the second most common type of bone cancer in children, but still very rare. About 200 children and young adults are found to have Ewing sarcoma each year in the United States, according to St. Jude hospital.
He was put on a treatment plan of 14 sessions of chemotherapy, surgery in middle to remove the tumor, followed by radiation treatment at the end.
He was admitted for in-patient care at Yale-New Haven from March to November where he had overnight stays for treatment.
The surgery removed his 11th, 12th and part of his 10th rib and detached and reattached his latissimus dorsi muscle.
“Last year seeing him going through that surgery I didn’t think he would ever play baseball again,” Lisa Bancroft said. “I never said that to him but knowing how important baseball is to him, I was worried. We didn’t know what was going to happen. He inspires us every day.”
He finished treatment Dec. 10, 2020 and had a follow up scan in early February. That scan brought bad news.
The Ewing sarcoma had spread to his right lung. He would have to undergo treatment again.
“I was very worried when I heard there was a reoccurrence. My heart dropped when I heard,” Kyle Bancroft said. “I just knew I had to keep fighting and beat it again. That’s the key, staying positive. I can either accept it and roll over or keep fighting. I’m going to keep fighting.”
Lisa said Kyle not only embraced his physical therapy, he enjoyed going, knowing each session brought him closer to a return to the field.
Doctors cleared him to start playing baseball while getting treatment in January and Bancroft was back training at the Batter’s Box in Norwalk and trying out for the Stamford Senior American Legion (19U) team, which he made.
Bancroft had a lot on his mind but near the top was whether he could get his swing back.
It did not take long for him to realize the sweet swing never left.
“I missed an entire season and summer, but when I came back my swing was still good,” Bancroft said. “I worked hard in the offseason and the muscle memory came back quickly. I feel really good at the plate this year. I‘m having good at bats and putting good swings on the ball.”
In his first game on JV this spring, Bancroft announced his return by launching a ball into the tree in deep centerfield of New Canaan’s Mead Park.
He has continued hitting well, batting third and playing first base.
He has been doing school remotely all year and has maintained his honor-student status despite his treatments.
The fact he is back playing at a high level while undergoing cancer treatments does not surprise Ken Lewis, who coached Bancroft on the 15U Legion team which won the state championship in 2019.
“Big hit, big play Kyle,” Lewis said. “He was our cleanup hitter and always came through in the clutch. What makes him special is he’s a true leader. All by example. He does all his talking with his glove and bat. Kyle is a very quiet kid but everyone on the team watches him and follows him naturally. He shows it on the field and in the dugout. I would take nine of him and two on Sunday.”
Lewis, who is close with the Bancroft family, has never stopped being amazed with how Kyle has handled the entire ordeal.
“I am not at all surprised he came back to play,” Lewis said. “I told him when he was first diagnosed not to worry because baseball would always be there. He just wanted to be back on the field. He needs to be on the field. It puts him in the right frame of mind. He works harder than everyone in baseball and he works harder than anyone at getting better. It will work well for him in the game and the rest of his life. He’s so mentally tough and he’s become a role model for the younger players in the Legion program.”
Since Kyle’s return, his parents are at all of his games, just as they’ve always been.
“Baseball has been such a huge part of our lives since he has been four years old. This is what we do as a family. We bring the dog, get the chairs and the umbrella, bring lunch and we go sit at the baseball field,” Scott Bancroft said. “He’s always been a really good baseball player and he’s been hitting the ball out of the park for years. Defensively he has a good baseball IQ. He’s always worked hard. He loves the game and we love seeing him play.”