Dave Roberts, whose stolen base for Boston in the 2004 playoffs sparked the Red Sox to an elusive World Series championship, is being treated for Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Roberts was diagnosed in mid-March and he says the cancer was detected early. He says the prognosis is "good." He has undergone two rounds of chemotherapy so far.
"I expect to beat this fully," Roberts said during a conference call Monday.
The 37-year-old Roberts, who is working for the San Diego Padres as a special assistant, said he wanted to keep his illness private but knew that his appearance would be changing as he underwent chemotherapy.
"Going forward I definitely hope that I can keep this private with my family," he said.
Roberts said he began feeling soreness in his neck before spring training, then discovered a lump that began to grow.
He continued to work with players during spring training.
"It was a challenge," he said. "I had to kind of balance it and try not to do too much throughout spring training. But you know what? I wanted to continue with spring training and help this organization any way I could. Also, it was good for me. I didn't want to take the focus away from the players. I wanted to make it about them."
Robert said he informed a handful of players about his illness, and that the organization has been supportive.
"Just going to the ballpark and working with players, or going to a minor league affiliate and seeing the guys stimulates me and keeps me going and keeps me positive," he said.
Roberts has worked with players on outfield skills and baserunning, something the Padres stressed in spring training.
"He's handling it great," San Diego manager Bud Black said before the Padres hosted Colorado. "He's going to continue to do whatever he can for the Padres. We love having him around. He's done great work so far in his new transition on this side, from being a player."
Roberts said he has to pace himself, however, and didn't go to the ballpark the last few days, when the NL West-leading Padres won three of four games against Milwaukee.
"I'm just trying to make sure I don't do too much in certain periods," he said. "I definitely have been in tune with the happenings of the ballclub."
Roberts played 10 seasons in the majors for Cleveland, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston, San Diego and San Francisco. The speedy outfielder retired after the 2008 season with the Giants, then worked in television last year for the Red Sox.
"I expect Dave can probably outrun anything," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said at his office door after batting practice Monday night. "I know we've got a lot of people pulling for him here. He probably knows that -- everywhere he's been."
Roberts was a career .266 hitter with 243 steals. His biggest highlight came in Game 4 of the 2004 AL Championship Series, where Boston was three outs away from getting swept by the New York Yankees.
With the Red Sox down 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth at Fenway Park, Roberts entered as a pinch-runner after Kevin Millar drew a leadoff walk from Mariano Rivera. Roberts stole second on the first pitch and later scored the tying run on a single by Bill Mueller.
The Red Sox went on to win 6-4 in 12 innings, then became the first team in major league history to overcome a 3-0 deficit and win a postseason series. Roberts was on the World Series roster, but did not play as Boston swept St. Louis for its first championship since 1918.
In fact, Roberts did not get to bat at all in the 2004 postseason. Yet his steal was credited as spurring the Red Sox toward their title.
Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield was among Roberts' teammates that year.
"It's saddening to hear that a guy which has such great character as Dave Roberts has was stricken with the illness. I'm optimistic that it's going to be treated and he'll live a long and healthy life," Wakefield said before Boston hosted the Los Angeles Angels on Monday night.
"We prayed for him in chapel yesterday. Hopefully, a lot of prayers go his way," he said.
Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, a survivor of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, said Roberts called him right after he was diagnosed.
"He has a much more treatable version of Hodgkin's, with a very high [survival] rate, over 90 percent," Lucchino said. "They caught it in an early enough stage.
"It's not fun, but it's a manageable treatment.''
Yankees outfielder Randy Winn, a former teammate and close friend, has been checking on Roberts.
"It's just tough in the beginning, getting a diagnosis that you have cancer, it kind of hits you out of nowhere," Winn said.
Information from ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes and The Associated Press contributed to this report.