65-year-old baseball pitcher overcomes health problems and is now ready for extra innings

Rob MacKnight is still climbing the hill after skin cancer, heart surgery and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

IMPERIAL BEACH, California – Baseball has been very, very good to an Imperial Beach man, even if his health hadn’t. In this Zevely Zone, I met a 65-year-old pitcher his teammates call the Deer Hunter. If you’ve ever played baseball, if there’s a sneak pitcher on the mound, you never know which field is coming your way, which is a lot like life.

After running on a baseball field and stretching into a sweat, Rob MacKnight asked me to catch balls for him behind home plate.

“This is a warm up,” Rob said quickly followed by these words, “Let’s try a slider. How about a change? We can try a knuckle curve if you like?”

Finally the man on the hill was ready to let the fastball fly. Out of desperation, fear and simple survival, I put the glove in front of my head to protect my face. Pow, went the gauntlet with every throw.

Three months ago, the pitches couldn’t have come faster for Rob, a father of four children and grandfather.

“Less than ideal,” Rob said as he showed me pictures of his recent hospital visits. Another kind of mound made its home on the ear and arm of the pitcher. “It turned out to be a squamous cell carcinoma,” says Rob.

What should have been an easy out turned into a double head of heart surgery. “Yeah, you know one of my different hospital stays,” Rob said. “Just excited to be there.”

Let’s not forget the wild tone of a year earlier. “Well, this little thing called chronic lymphocytic leukemia,” Rob said. When blood transfusions were needed to save his life, Rob became more concerned about saving his throwing arm. “Ha, ha, ha, we always go left,” said Rob, asking the nurses to insert the needles into his non-throwing arm.

Nicknamed the Deer Hunter, a game in which Rob was feeling unwell, he accidentally knocked down four batters. I asked Rob if he felt bad about it. “Oh yes, a little, ha, ha”, Rob laughed with a mischievous wink.

When Rob played baseball at San Diego City College, he pitched in the low 90’s. Four decades later, he’s still bringing the heat and piling up more hardware than his house can hold. “A little bit of bling, bling,” Rob said as he showed me some of his many rings and MVP awards. If I tell you that his house can’t hold them all, it’s no exaggeration. “I donate them so they can be recycled,” says Rob, who gives away his trophies to Little League teams to reuse.

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I asked Rob how fast can he throw a baseball at age 65? “The scouts stopped coming, I don’t know,” Rob said. For all the 18 year olds reading this, let’s say fast enough for extra innings and the next better. “Crying? There’s no crying in baseball,” said Rob. “Find what you love to do and do it.”

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Rob MacKnight started playing baseball at the age of 10. As a 13-year-old, he started the season 0-16 at the plate. A year later, Rob became an All-Star pitcher and he never looked back.

Last weekend, just 37 days after heart surgery, Rob pitched a full game. His team defeated the Colorado Thunder 10-3.

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