Strike 3 Foundation

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

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Craig Breslow has brain, brawn for Diamondbacks

For the record, Craig Breslow is not packing a slide rule in his shirt pocket. (I checked.) He chooses not to hang his multi-syllable Yale degree in his locker and opts not go all molecular biophysics during this interview.

He is, quite frankly, low-key and unassuming and appears to have checked his Ivy League education at the Diamondbacks clubhouse door.

"I think if you asked these guys," Breslow said, "they would say, ‘Brez is a pretty quiet guy. It’s not like he’s using words nobody understands.’ "

That’s because Breslow has great acuity and perspicacity. OK, he’s smart. And he’s another fascinating piece of a Diamondbacks roster that hopes to win a National League West crown for the second consecutive season.

The left-hander joined the team in December along with Trevor Cahill in a trade with Oakland. His bullpen role remains undefined but manager Kirk Gibson said "being our long guy" is a possibility.

Breslow, 31, has a fascinating background despite his insistence his story is "boring." So maybe his degrees in molecular biophysics and chemistry sound dull but the path that led him there is anything but a yawner.

When Breslow was 11, his sister, Lesley, then 13, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. It blindsided him.

"At 11, you’re battling lots of things internally," he said. "You’re still young enough and naive enough to think nobody gets sick, but when it’s cancer, the result is somebody dies. It was a pretty scary time."

A year earlier, Breslow broke his wrist. He watched as an orthopedic surgeon put it in a cast and then marveled that six weeks later, it was healed.

Those two experiences drove him toward medicine and a desire to become a doctor.

"The whole idea that there is somebody out there who can physically make you better was something that was really fascinating to me," he said. "At this point in my life I thought I would be a doctor and root for a baseball team as opposed to be a baseball player and root for medicine."

The problem was that Breslow turned out to be a heck of a ballplayer. He was the winning pitcher in the Connecticut State Little League title game and thrived at Trumbull High.

He went to Yale with the intent of preparing for medical school, but his baseball accomplishments continued to get in the way. As a junior, he ranked 13th in the nation in strikeouts per nine innings, and as senior he led the Ivy League with a 2.56 ERA.

The Brewers drafted him in the 26th round in 2002, making him the first Yale player since Ron Darling in 1981 to reach the majors. Breslow opted to defer his acceptance to New York University’s School of Medicine.

Two years later, when Milwaukee released him, he was prepared to go to NYU but the school would only take him if agreed to stop playing.

He wasn’t ready to do that yet.

He attended a tryout camp San Diego held in Arizona in 2005 that had a unique setup. Players signed by the Padres would be paid $1, plus $1,500 if they made one of the organization’s farm clubs out of spring training.

Breslow did.

He pitched well and even made it up to the Padres for a stint, when he posted a 2.20 ERA in 14 games. But this sport can be ruthless and the team non-tendered him (didn’t offer him a contract) later in the year.

The decision-maker on that one? Diamondbacks General Manager Kevin Towers, then the GM in San Diego.

He bounced around for several years. In Boston, he earned a World Series ring in 2007 for being on the postseason roster. He landed in Cleveland and Minnesota before spending the past two-plus seasons in Oakland, where he holds the franchise records for strikeouts by a left-handed reliever (71 in 2010).

Last season he was 0-2 with a 3.79 ERA in 67 appearances.

His greatest gift is his versatility.

"If I need to get a lefty out I can do that," he said. "If I need to go two innings I can also do that.

"So many (talk) about being able to get left-handed hitters out or right handed hitters out. I’ve always argued, ‘Why can’t you get both out?’ "

You can, as he has proven. He has limited right-handers to a .234 average and lefties to .224 during his career.

He was surprised to be dealt to the Diamondbacks because he hadn’t heard his name mentioned in speculation but received a positive review from Diamondbacks pitcher Brad Ziegler, who was a teammate on the A’s in 2011.

"He had great things to say, most notably about the coaching staff," Breslow said.

His respect certainly extends for Gibson.

"It’s one thing when a guy who hasn’t done it at the highest level is giving you instruction," Breslow said.

" … There are so many personalities and egos at play (in baseball). The one thing that mobilizes everybody is respect for what has been done in this game."

Breslow, by the way, has not forgotten about his medical aspirations. He still seriously is considering medical school after baseball is done. In the meantime, he is filling the need to help medicine with his Strike 3 Foundation, a charitable agency whose goal is to heighten awareness and raise money for pediatric cancer research.

The experience of his sister, who has remained cancer-free, by the way, since her treatment, inspired him to do more. The foundation focuses on telling success stories — "it’s important to raise money for research because it works," he said — and holds positive, upbeat events.

One is coming Wednesday at American Junkie in Scottsdale. It will be a Celebrity Bartending Night from 9-11 p.m., and many of Breslow’s new Diamondbacks teammates have committed to coming. (Go to for more information.)

It will be a night to acknowledge Breslow as a philanthropist, not a brainiac, although that label surely won’t escape his teammate’s attention.

While he was with the Padres, he once took a suit bag on a trip that was blue with an "obnoxious," he said, giant white Yale "Y."

"We know you’re smarter than everyone else in here," closer Trevor Hoffman mused. "You don’t have to bring this garment bag in to show us every day."

Breslow learned his lesson.

He may always be the smartest guy in the room. He just won’t let you know it.

By Paola Boivin

March 17, 2012 · Reprinted from The Arizona Republic © 2012

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