Strike 3 Foundation

The Strike 3 Foundation heightens awareness, mobilizes support, and raises funding for childhood cancer research.

In the News

A’s Breslow aiming to attend medical school

It’s not every day a pro athlete stops by the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, so doctors and scientists were excited when A’s pitcher Craig Breslow recently visited.

But Breslow really impressed them — and not because he leads the American League in relief appearances. He explained how, as a Yale student who majored in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, his own laboratory work included protein purifications and DNA sequencing.

"Well," said Dr. Bert Lubin, the research institute’s president, "we’ve certainly never had a baseball player who could speak our language."

There’s a reason the Wall Street Journal anointed Breslow "The Smartest Man in Baseball."

Whenever his career ends, Breslow hopes to attend medical school with the goal of doing research to help eradicate pediatric cancer. That passion was born in the traumatic childhood experience of watching his older sister fight thyroid cancer.

That plan has been delayed because, well, this baseball thing is working out for an unlikely major leaguer whose contract once sold for $1. He has become a surprising workhorse in the Oakland bullpen after being claimed on waivers in May.

Breslow also has used his unexpected baseball platform to create the nonprofit Strike 3 Foundation to raise money for cancer research.

"This is a cause where it’s easy to get people to rally around it," he said. "Cancer is so non-discriminating in kids. It’s race-blind. It’s ethnicity-blind. It’s blind to how much money your family has. It crosses every boundary."

At age 12, he saw that firsthand.

Heartbreaking news

Breslow, 29, remembers his upset father picking him up from a friend’s house and breaking the news. His 14-year-old sister, Lesley, had cancer.

"My parents tried to shelter me because I was so young," he said. "But when you’re 12 and you hear someone has cancer, you just think: ‘She’s going to die.’"

But Lesley underwent successful surgery and has been cancer-free for 15 years.

"It was a meaningful experience that showed me the value of what research can do," added Breslow, a Connecticut native. "Even then I realized that someone had spent hours and hours in a lab to come up with treatments that helped my sister."

That, Breslow decided, is what he would do.

Breslow attended Yale as an aspiring doctor, not a pitching prospect. But he also was an all-Ivy League pitcher who once struck out 16 batters in a game. He decided to give pro ball a shot after Milwaukee drafted him in the 26th round in 2002.

When he was released two years later, and ended up playing Independent League baseball, he applied to New York University’s medical school and appeared ready to get on with his "real" life. But San Diego bought his contract for that $1, and serendipity took over.

He was going to be the last guy cut from the Padres’ Double-A team in spring 2005 when a roster spot suddenly became available. When the Padres needed an emergency left-hander during an East Coast trip, Breslow got called up and did well.

His vagabond career took him to Boston, where he earned a 2007 World Series ring for being on the postseason roster, and he split time last season with Cleveland and Minnesota.

When the A’s claimed him from the Twins, his new teammates knew little about him. But soon they realized Breslow knew everything. He became the clubhouse expert on any topic: history, science, the weather, crossword puzzle answers.

"Everybody just assumes that he’s going to be right," said former A’s reliever Russ Springer. "So he could be just making up stuff and the rest of us would still believe him because we’re so gullible."

This may be a forgettable season in Oakland, but Breslow is enjoying his best year. He has posted a 5-6 record with a 4.22 ERA in 59 appearances. And since joining the A’s, he has a 3.38 ERA in 42 outings.

"On a good day I might touch 92," Breslow said of his fastball. "I was never 6-foot-5, throwing 100 mph. So this has been very gratifying."

Blending right in

Actually, Breslow is about 5-foot-11 and looks much like the unassuming researchers he met on the hospital tour. The only thing giving away his athlete status was the baseball cuff links on his sleeves.

In the bustling lab of Dr. Julie Saba, a senior scientist, Breslow listened intently as she explained her work in unlocking the molecular mechanisms of cancer cells. Saba had a previous brush with fame when actress Juliette Binoche shadowed her while preparing for her researcher role in the 2005 film "The Bee Season." But on this day, she talked to Breslow as if he were a colleague.

"Eighty-five percent of children diagnosed with leukemia have long-term cures," Saba said. "And there’s been tremendous improvement in treatment of solid tumors."

Much more needs to be done, she added. Breslow understands this, which is why he started his nonprofit that raised $100,000 at its November launch. Though he can see himself one day in a lab, Breslow said the problem-solving skills required in science are different from those needed in his current job.

"When you’re in a lab, you’re always following a protocol," he said. "There’s a structure. But on the mound, everything is reactive and spontaneous. The first pitch goes awry and then you have to improvise. There’s no recipe to follow out there."

As the tour ended, Saba suggested he could get an early start to his next career.

"Maybe you can put in a few hours of lab work before you go to the stadium," she joked.

But he had a busy schedule that night.

Back at stadium

A few hours later, before a game against Texas in Oakland, Breslow chaperoned 13-year-old cancer survivor Hudson Davis of Lafayette around the clubhouse, introducing the wide-eyed teen to A’s players. He showed off his locker — the one where someone had taped drawings of Albert Einstein and a complicated algebraic formula.

Clubhouses aren’t always the most enlightened places and smart ballplayers have been known to "dumb-down" in order to fit in among teammates. The Wall Street Journal story on Breslow’s big brain had noted that just 26 major league players and managers have college degrees.

But Breslow said he is accepted because he’s no different from guys who signed right out of high school or who grew up in the Dominican Republic. They’re all just trying to win.

"I’ve got friends who are in med school and on Wall Street, and those guys don’t even know what the weather is like outside," he added. "I love coming to the yard, being the first guy here, staying late and being part of the camaraderie."

Breslow would catch the ceremonial first pitch tossed by Davis. Later, he tossed a perfect ninth inning, closing out a 6-0 A’s victory.

Yes, Breslow’s research future will have to wait a little longer.

By Mark Emmons

August 3, 2009 · Reprinted from © 2009

Mission Statement

The Strike 3 Foundation heightens awareness, mobilizes support, and raises funding for childhood cancer research.

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Strike 3 Foundation
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Monroe, CT 06468

(203) 502-0007

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