ORONO, Maine — There was a time when Caleb Kerbs wasn’t sure he would ever be able to participate in Seniors Weekend with the University of Maine baseball team.
On May 10, 2018, he detected a mass on his testicle while taking a shower. Six days later, it was diagnosed as cancer.
“It was definitely a scary time. I didn’t know if I would ever play again, walk again or even survive,” the Black Bears second baseman said.
But early detection proved critical for Kerbs, who is from Brooklyn, New York. He underwent surgery 10 days later and, because it was discovered early, he didn’t require chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
“Self-detection was key in my situation. If I had waited any longer, it could have gotten a lot worse,” Kerbs said.
His doctors told him he just needed to lay low for six weeks and not lift anything.
“I was home but I got bored so I started taking swings in the mirror and doing things I shouldn’t have been doing. But I knew I was coming back and I really wanted to play and finish off the year hot,” Kerbs said.
UMaine assistant coach John Schiffner marvels at Kerbs’ ability to deal with the situation.
“When he first told us [about his cancer], he was under better control emotionally than we were,” Schiffner said. “He told us not to worry. He was coming back.”
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Kerbs has played in all 44 games this season and takes a .243 average into a Friday-Saturday series against Binghamton. He and the seniors will be honored on Friday, including pitcher Nick Silva, third baseman-designated hitter Danny Casals, infielder Bobby Brennan, pitcher Justin Courtney and left fielder Colin Ridley.
Kerbs has a home run, 18 runs batted in and six doubles and has been steady in the field, committing only three errors in 78 chances.
“Seeing what Caleb went through last year and the way he has bounced back this year has been an inspiration to all of us … and with any adversity that has come up [in our lives],” classmate Courtney of Bangor said.
“You learn from somebody like [Kerbs] who has gone through experiences not the average person has gone through,” senior Danny Casals added.
UMaine head coach Nick Derba said one would never know what Kerbs has been through because of his positive attitude.
Kerbs, who is in his fifth year at UMaine after redshirting as a freshman, said returning to Orono to his coaches, teammates and friends was therapeutic in his recovery.
“When some people have an illness like that, it’s all they ever think about and all they talk about,” Kerbs said. “It was just a little segment of my life. I had to overcome a little obstacle. It doesn’t define me. I’m just moving on.”
Kerbs received tremendous support from his parents, Ken and Sarah, along with his coaches, friends and teammates. He got some unexpected reinforcement from Colorado Rockies pitcher Chad Bettis, who also dealt with testicular cancer.
“He sent me a video. It was awesome. It made me feel really good,” said Kerbs, who was able to get in touch with Bettis.
Kerbs said he also heard from other America East coaches and players throughout the process.
He has been active with the Testicular Cancer Foundation and will address the America East coaches, players and administrators next week during the America East awards banquet in Vestal, New York.
Kerbs, a tri-captain last season and a career .240 hitter, has evolved into a team leader.
“He is a warrior,” UMaine junior Hernen Sardinas said. “He is one of our leaders. He goes after it every day. I’m really proud of him.”
Kerbs has always been well-respected by his teammates and coaches.
“No one works as hard as he does,” Schiffner said. “And he’s a quiet leader.”
Kerbs will play in his 178th career game in Friday’s 11 a.m. series opener.
“I came to Maine with a chip on my shoulder,” Kerbs said. “I wanted to keep that same mentality throughout my whole career. I try to work harder than everyone else because that allows me to keep playing.”
He has enjoyed his five years in Orono and has adapted to the rural life.
“When I first got here, every time I was in a car and I saw a deer, I would start screaming. Nobody else reacted,” Kerbs said. “Then I realized it was an everyday thing here. I’ve grown a lot here. I’m really thankful to have been here.”