Strike 3 Foundation

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

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Breslow’s pitch would’ve been a hit with Clemente

At the age of 11, when athletic young men with live arms dream of playing major-league baseball, Craig Breslow started thinking about making a profound impact on the world.

He was incredibly scared when his sister, Lesley, two years his elder, had contracted cancer, and Breslow remembers thinking his destiny was to help find a cure for the insidious disease in the medical field.

Medical school may be in his future at some later date, but for now, the man dubbed as "the smartest man in baseball" is living the major-league dream as a highly successful left-handed relief pitcher for the Oakland A’s.

Last week, Breslow, a former Yale standout and founder of the Strike 3 Foundation, was selected as a finalist for the Roberto Clemente Award, given to a player whose commitment to the community and helping others sets him apart. Among the charitable work of the Strike 3 Foundation is a pledge of upward of half a million dollars over five years to the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Program.

"I wouldn’t be satisfied if all I was doing were playing baseball for three or four hours a day, and that was it," Breslow said this week. "So I definitely feel a sense of accomplishment by doing this. I thought my impact on the medical community would be as a physician, and not philosophically. But this is kind of the way things turned out and the best way for me to make an impact and help people."

Breslow, who was a molecular biophysics and biochemistry major at Yale, still laughs at being dubbed the smartest man in baseball. But he quickly confesses that he might not have even been "the smartest guy on my team at Yale. Two of my classmates got drafted and one went on to Harvard Medical School (pitcher Matt McCarthy) and another went on to Yale Law School (pitcher Jon Steitz)."

It might be as accurate to call Breslow the most underpaid player in baseball, considering the way his career has blossomed the past two years with Oakland after stints with Milwaukee (the team that drafted him in 2002), San Diego, Boston, Cleveland and Minnesota.

He’s made 67 appearances, allowing a mere 47 hits in 65§ innings and is holding opposing batters to a .197 average. In 60 games with the A’s in 2009, he held opposing batters to an identical .197 average.

For this, he earns $425,000, which, to make our point, is half that of Sergio Mitre of the Yankees; $2.3 million less than Hideki Okajima of the Red Sox; and about $800,000 less than Ryota Igarashi of the Mets.

"Well, I’m happy with the way I’ve been throwing the ball and hopefully we can even out that underpaid part," chuckled Breslow, a Trumbull native.

Breslow, 30, is too young to have seen Clemente play, but he wouldn’t be the smartest man in baseball without a sense of history.

"When you say the name of Roberto Clemente, there are two over-riding sentiments," Breslow said. "One being that he was a great player. … one of the most talented players who ever played the game. The second part is that he was a great philanthropist, ultimately resulting in a career that ended far too early and a life that ended far too early. To be mentioned in the same breath as Roberto Clemente, along with the other great charitable guys in baseball, is very humbling.

"But not all of this is my doing. I’ve had a great support system, and I’ve had a lot of help. And I don’t think anyone who’s nominated for the award does the work they do with the intention of being nominated or winning the award. Recognition is definitely humbling, but not the driving force."

If Breslow flies under the radar as a major-league player, than Joe Lizza, the former catcher at the University of New Haven and co-founder of the Strike 3 Foundation with Breslow, is truly his noble, behind-the-scenes aide-de-camp.

Lizza, who played at Derby High and now teaches in Danbury, became friends with Breslow about seven years ago, serves as his off-season batterymate, pitching confidant and COO of the foundation.

"I don’t care that I fly under the radar because the purpose is about helping kids," Lizza said. "As much recognition as Craig gets, he’s going to say the same thing. It’s not about him. It’s about one goal and one mission and helping to find a cure for this deadly disease. Flying under the radar. … big deal. I don’t know how to explain it, but we both have the same mentality where you just go. He puts his whole heart in it, and that’s what I did."

The foundation’s third annual First Pitch Celebrity Gala, benefiting pediatric cancer research, will take place on Nov. 13 at the Stamford Hilton, co-hosted by Bobby Valentine and ESPN’s Karl Ravech.

Asked if he thinks he’ll be best known as a pitcher or philanthropist, Breslow shared thoughts that he probably couldn’t have verbalized when he first learned the news about his sister, a pediatric thyroid cancer survivor, nearly 20 years ago.

"I’d like to be remembered for all those things, but in terms of the adage, leaving the world in a better place than you found it, I don’t know that being a really good baseball player would do that. … outside of the really diehard Oakland fans, who appreciate my services," Breslow said. "But long after my playing days, I kind of hope that people will remember what the Strike 3 Foundation set out to do and what we are, as opposed to a big pitch I might have made at some point in my career."

Roberto Clemente would have liked that.

By Dave Solomon

September 20, 2010 · Reprinted from The New Haven Register © 2010

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

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