'Through extreme darkness.' How Delaware native, Reds OF fights daughter's cancer diagnosis

Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jake Fraley (27) hits a single in the second inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, March 31, 2024, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jake Fraley (27) hits a single in the second inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, March 31, 2024, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

PHILADELPHIA − For a few weeks last October, Jake Fraley and his wife, Angelica, couldn't understand why their 5-year-old daughter, Avery, was waking up in the middle of the night in agonizing back pain. Or why at one point she was unable to walk after tripping and falling over a blanket.

Fraley, the Caravel Academy star and Cincinnati Reds outfielder, and his wife took Avery to doctors and chiropractors. They made three trips to the hospital near where they live in Miami during the offseason. Nobody had an answer.

"She was waking up in the middle of the night in a complete dead sleep, knees at her chest, and it would be an hourlong session getting her to straighten her legs out," Fraley said. "You could see her whole back just spasming out."

So Fraley suggested to doctors that they give her daughter a blood test.

"We had done everything else, and nothing had worked," he said.

It didn't take long before the diagnosis came back that Avery had leukemia, a blood cancer. That was devastating in itself, but at least now the Fraleys and doctors could begin treating it.

"When you take a step back and realize the severity of what my daughter is going through, it doesn’t make sense," Fraley said.

No wonder Fraley called this 2024 season, one where he's considered a major part of the Reds' young nucleus, "my most challenging year."

Fraley not only meant that as a baseball player, but as a father and a husband. To understand how Fraley has met the challenge is to understand the importance of faith − his daughter's middle name − in Jesus Christ in his and his family's life.

Fraley said his daughter is in full remission, an extremely positive sign. But she still has to go through the chemotherapy protocols for nearly two years, and then stay in full remission for an additional five years before she's considered cured.

"It’s difficult, but it’s no different than anything else," Fraley said. "Everybody is going through some sort of extreme darkness. It’s just different for everybody for what that looks like. For me and my family, it’s my daughter battling cancer. For somebody else, it might be a divorce. Or it might be losing a child, losing a father, losing a friend. Whatever it is, everybody is going through something.

"So I don’t find myself in any special category. … It’s just a matter of life. We live in a broken world. It’s unfortunate. It’s just part of the stuff that’s in this world."

Fraley said his faith has given him that perspective. And this is what enables him to focus on his job.

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Fraley: 'Heart is postured in the right direction'

After all, Fraley could have reported late to spring training, or taken a leave of absence. In fact, Fraley said some in the organization expected him to.

"That never even crossed my mind," Fraley said. "I really believe that’s because my heart is postured in the right direction. ... Jesus brings us to that place where you’re able to surf through those circumstances rather than feel like you’re drowning."

So Fraley stayed on top of his daughter's care from Arizona where the Reds held spring training. The rest of the family moved to their residence in the Cincinnati area where Avery is continuing her treatments. They get help from Fraley's parents, Marvin and Traci, who still live in Middletown, Delaware. And from Angelica's family in Florida.

And they manage, one day at a time.

Avery, her older brother Jayce and Angelica were at a game during the Reds' opening series last week. Fraley's parents attended the games in Philadelphia against the Phillies this week.

Through it all, Fraley has gotten off to a fast start with the Reds. He plays primarily against right-handed pitchers, and he's hitting .467 with seven hits in 15 at-bats and a stolen base after going 1-for-3 with a run scored in the Reds' 4-1 win over the Phillies on Wednesday night.

This after a breakout season in 2023 when Fraley had a career-high 15 homers, 65 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. Even more is expected this season.

"I just feel like I’ve been playing really good baseball for the last three years," Fraley said. "If anything is different, it’s perspective. Just a deeper understanding and perspective with everything that we’re walking through. … Just getting back to what truly matters."

Caravel's Jake Fraley celebrates a fifth- inning RBI double vs. St. Mark's in 2013.
Caravel's Jake Fraley celebrates a fifth- inning RBI double vs. St. Mark's in 2013.

"The best way I can describe Jake is he’s one of the strongest people I know, and have ever seen," Reds manager David Bell said. "He’s just really strong. A strong family, a really close family. And they’ve been a rock through the whole thing.

"For Jake to be able to do what he’s doing here, and be a dad and a husband off the field, and do that all with love and care, like he does, it’s amazing to see. He’s got a great routine and he’s got a great support system."

Not drowning through injuries

Fraley learned how to keep from drowning a long time ago, while playing baseball and attending bible study at LSU with some of his teammates. But Fraley still faced his share of struggles as he worked his way up through the minor leagues.

He got traded for the first time, to the Seattle Mariners from the Tampa Bay Rays. This came in 2018, two years after the Rays made him their second-round pick.

Fraley had a strong rookie season in Seattle in 2021, with 9 homers, 36 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 214 at-bats. The next spring, Fraley was traded to the Reds. Then Fraley broke his toe barely a month into his first season with the Reds, and missed three months.

During that rehab, Fraley consulted with a mental health therapist, and that grounded him. Fraley finished with 12 homers in 216 at-bats, setting up his breakout season in 2023.

Fraley said there's more to come, even with his daughter's diagnosis. That's because he has his faith, his family and the Reds' support to get him through.

"To be able to have an organization that cares about you is huge," Fraley said. "How you take care of players, to me, is how you create long-term success. I appreciate that the Reds see that."

And, of course, there's Fraley's faith.

All of it, he said, enables him, "to walk in peace, joy and happiness amidst the circumstances."

Contact Martin Frank at Follow on X @Mfranknfl.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: How Reds' Jake Fraley finds strength to fight daughter's cancer diagnosis