James Connor‘s battle against cancer as he looks to resume his football career will include a brief detour to a professional stick-and-ball field.
The Pittsburgh Pirates announced Wednesday that the Pittsburgh Panthers running back will throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the major league club’s 2016 opener. The Pirates open the season at PNC Park against the St. Louis Cardinals this coming Sunday.
“I’m honored and thrilled to throw out the first pitch for the Pirates’ season opener and I want to thank everyone in the organization for this incredible invitation,” Conner said in a statement. “It has been a long time since I played baseball but I’ll make sure my arm is ready to throw a strike on Sunday. The Bucs’ road to the World Series begins this weekend and I can’t wait to be at PNC Park.”
In early December, Conner revealed that he had been diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his neck and chest. Conner began treatment a short time later, a course that’s expected to take a period of six months. The treatment hasn’t kept Connor completely away from the Panthers, however, as the running back was seen on video working out with teammates last month while he has been doing some individuals drills since the start of spring practice this month.
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said earlier this offseason that he expects Connor to play in 2016.
As a sophomore, Conner was named the ACC’s Player of the Year in 2014. He was fully expected to leave for the NFL following the 2015 season before the combination of a season-ending knee injury suffered in September and the cancer diagnosis prompted a return to Pitt.