Strike 3 Foundation

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

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A’s reliever has medical career on hold

OAKLAND — You can understand a guy going to Yale and majoring in molecular biophysics. And you can’t blame a guy for majoring in biochemistry. But earning a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry? That’s just showing off.

And then putting off his medical career to pitch in the major leagues?

In baseball, you’re considered an intellectual if you can read a box score, breaking ball and bunt sign. So Craig Breslow, the A’s new middle reliever, has kind of raised the bar for baseball smarts. Fortunately, his minor at Yale apparently was “masking your IQ by talking and acting like a normal person.”

But don’t get the idea that Breslow, picked up by the A’s off the waiver wire from Minnesota last week, is a good pitcher because he’s smart.

“I’m at my best when I’m (intellectually) uninvolved,” Breslow said Wednesday. “I’m in trouble when I think too much, start trying to trick people.”

Wednesday Breslow left his brain in a pickle jar at his locker, pitched the eighth inning and struck out the side, whiffing the Mariners’ No. 4, 5 and 6 hitters.

This is why the Twins smacked themselves on the forehead when they tried to sneak Breslow through waivers but got Billy Beaned.

Breslow is 28, pitching for his fourth big-league team, and so far he and the A’s are getting along famously. Guys like having Breslow as a teammate. He answers all their medical and scientific questions.

“I’m the expert opinion on everything,” he said with a laugh. “They ask me questions about weather, about banned substances and supplements.”

When Breslow pitched for the Red Sox, he helped Josh Beckett win a bet with another teammate by calculating the number of times a baseball spins on the way to the plate on various pitches.

“It’s rather simple once you do it,” Breslow said.

This is how weird Breslow is: He doesn’t play video games, which makes him unique in all of sports. That and the fact that Breslow, an unimposing 5-11 fellow with a pleasant smile, is playing baseball on loan from medical science.

As a kid, little Craig would tell people he wanted to be a doctor, but he didn’t take it seriously until he was 11 years old. His father picked him up at school one day and told him, “Craig, Lesley has cancer.”

Lesley is Breslow’s only sibling, two years older.

“Something as traumatic as that has a lasting impact,” Breslow said. “It confirmed my interest (in medicine). Being a doctor went from being a prestigious profession to something that changes people’s lives.”

Craig watched with interest as medical science kicked Lesley’s thyroid ancer’s butt. (Fifteen years later, she’s still in remission and expecting her first child.)

Breslow was also a good athlete, a fine pitcher, but because of his size he wasn’t in great demand. He went to Yale and pitched well enough to get drafted on the 26th round in ’02. He figured, what the heck, why not play a little more ball?

“It wasn’t until I was playing baseball in the big leagues that I thought I could play baseball in the big leagues,” he said.

While knocking around the minor leagues, he would pore over his textbooks, keeping his mind fresh. When the Brewers released Breslow in ’04, he applied for med school at NYU, but they would accept him only if he agreed to stop playing baseball.

“I wasn’t ready to give it up,” he said. “I thought I could still get guys out.”

He put the textbooks in mothballs.

“I need to be completely committed to baseball,” he said. “I’m cheating myself if I have one hand in baseball and the other on textbooks.”

But he’s got spare time in the off-season, so last year he started the Strike Three Foundation, to raise money for children’s cancer research. His first benefit raised $100,000.

The future? Breslow doesn’t have it all mapped out, but he’ll consider going back to school and becoming a medical researcher or doctor.

He likes research but said recently, “I’ve always dealt better with people and personalities than pipettes and balances.” Whatever those are.

There’s a story that Yogi Berra was on a Yankee bus ride, sitting next to infielder Bobby Brown, who was studying to become a cardiologist. Berra was reading a comic book, Brown a medical textbook. They both closed their books at the same time and Yogi asked Brown, “How’d yours come out?”

Who knows how Breslow’s story will come out, but here’s a guess: Through his fundraising, and maybe with help from his brainpower, cancer loses.

Holliday, Crosby and trades are the topic of discussion after A’s fall to the Mariners 6-1.

By Scott Ostler

March 28, 2009 · Reprinted from The San Francisco Chronicle © 2009

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

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