Eric Exner: Battling Cancer, Surgery, and Standing Tall in Northwest Arkansas
By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
Eric Exner has been around the block. The 60-year-old Exner resides in the eight-team Northwest Arkansas MSBL, is a ring-bearing MSBL World Series veteran (4), and is also a cancer survivor that is currently rehabbing from an August 1st rotator cuff surgery, that was necessitated from injuries sustained while playing pickup basketball with 20-year-olds! Any thoughts of slowing down now? Yeah, right.
“I decided to get the surgery done as quickly as possible so I can be ready for next year,” stated Exner. “I played the week before the MRI and wanted to keep playing up to the surgery and my surgeon said to shut it done to avoid further damage. I thought it best to listen.”
A lifelong Dodgers fan, he is fittingly a member of the Dodgers in the league. Eric is eyeing his 30th season in the league in 2023. The NW Arkansas MSBL is a 25-over league so Eric continues to give up a few years to the youngsters.
“I have moved to first base because these young guys have some speed that I can’t quite keep up with. We also allow 18-year-olds to play so it can get pretty crazy. But I look forward to getting back out there and working back to 100%.”
Eric has battled through a lot including a recent battle with prostate cancer that is thankfully in remission.
“I was diagnosed only a year ago and still went to Arizona for the World Series last year and it didn’t affect anything. It was caught early enough and the biopsies came back showing it as slow-moving cancer. We caught it early. I have done some research and changed my diet, so my PSA score is going down. Try to limit red meat and processed meat and you will be a lot healthier. Take the time to do some research, if you can.”
Eric’s World Series resume spans 20 years in the cactus of Arizona, and he has four rings to show for it.
“I play with California guys in Arizona (So Cal Jays) and have three rings with Team Easton but my most treasured championship came with my son and a member of the Breakers Father/Son team in 1997. I have also been able to play in the MSBL Kickoff Classic in Las Vegas on occasion.”
How did this California kid end up playing in Arkansas?
“I was working for Walmart in the purchasing department and was asked to move to Bentonville. It was in the middle of a school year and our house also had to be packed up so I drove out alone to find a place to live. That was in 1994. I was alone in Arkansas setting up our rental house and went out to explore and saw some guys playing ball. That’s where I met Stephen Boudreaux and he asked me to play on the spot. That kick-started the 30-year friendship.”
Keith Wheeler is the current league president, having taken over from Boudreaux a few years back. They have both relied on Eric as a sounding board and seek his advice from time to time.
“They are both great guys. Keith does a tremendous job organizing everything. I try to remain a mentor to a lot of the young guys. There was a young pitcher that got shelled and was all mad in the dugout and I went up to him and put my arm around him and reminded him that this is recreational baseball and to enjoy yourself and have fun. I reminded him about what is important and explained my cancer situation. It seemed to change his perspective a little. I hope it did.
I enjoy my role as mentor and advising the kids to balance things out. It is no longer a ‘win at all cost’ perspective, but more about discussing the game and what it means. Baseball is a physical game of chess.”
Are there any individuals in your journey that you would like to take a moment to thank?
“My wife Teri has been a saint and my children AJ, Danielle, and Julianne have been fantastic for putting up with parts of weekends watching me play. In 2001 I was able to get tickets for game two of the World Series and took my son. Ray Charles sang the very meaningful National Anthem and my son’s favorite player, Randy Johnson, pitched that game. That was a special moment for us.”
Any final thoughts about what MSBL means to you and any advice you’d like to convey?
“I have been playing since I was five years old and have not stopped. Keep playing, if you can. It is an easy game to play but a tough game to play well. You can always find equal talent to play with so you don’t have to play at the top level all the time to be happy.
Don’t shortchange the relationships you make playing baseball. They are invaluable. Where else can you find a game that allows you to say that? Enjoy the process. Enjoy the game. It is such a fun game because it gives you the opportunity to create meaningful relationships.”