Strike 3 Foundation

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In 2005, Breslow opted for the mound over medical school

BOSTON, MA — All Craig Breslow really was trying to do was to kill time before medical school.

Breslow and his 7.19 ERA had been released from High-A High Desert (Calif.) in the Milwaukee Brewers’ farm system midway through the 2004 season. No other organization in affiliated baseball was interested in his services.

Because Breslow had attended — and played his college baseball at — Yale, all was not lost. He knew he had a bright future ahead of him. He was going to New York University to go to medical school to specialize in orthopedic surgery or sports medicine.

But Breslow couldn’t just make the decision in July to go to medical school and then matriculate in August. Even receiving his acceptance letter left him more than a year to sit on his hands and wait — or to find somewhere to play baseball , if only to pass the time.

“It turned out that I still enjoyed playing,” he said.

It turned out he still could pitch, too.

“I just saw something special in him,” New Jersey Jackals manager Joe Calfapietra said. “He had a way about him. He was good enough to get back with an organization.”

Nine years later, Breslow has done more than get back with an organization. He’s established himself as a bona fide major-league relief pitcher. He’s made more than 350 appearances in the major leagues. He’s even playing under the first multiyear contract of his career — a two-year, $6.25-million deal that runs through 2014 with a $4-million team option for 2015.

He has a 1.04 ERA with three strikeouts and four walks in 8.2 innings pitched for the Red Sox this season.

But it might never have happened if not for the objective look Breslow had to take at his skills, his future and his potential in walks of life other than baseball.

Breslow pitched respectably if not dominantly for New Jersey, compiling a 4.10 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 261/3 innings out of the bullpen as the Jackals won a Northeast League title.

Just as important, though, the lefty demonstrated — both to others and to himself — that he still could pitch. He didn’t need to give up on baseball. It was worth giving it one more try.

Besides, the first day of classes at NYU wasn’t for more than six months.

Calfapietra at the time was doing part-time work as a scout for the San Diego Padres, and what he saw in Breslow he liked enough to recommend him for a tryout camp that winter. Breslow pitched well enough at the camp to earn a minor-league invitation to spring training with the Padres.

But his release from the Brewers’ High-A roster the previous year still stung. He knew his baseball career was close to stagnating. He didn’t want to spin his wheels in the low levels of the minor leagues while he let any other chances pass him by.

And so Breslow went to spring training that year having made a decision: if the Padres put him on their Double-A Mobile roster — an indication of progress — he was going to put off medical school and throw himself wholeheartedly back into his baseball career. If the Padres deemed him unworthy of Double-A, he was going to go home and transition to the next stage of his life.

“It was very much an objective decision,” he said. “At this stage in my life, I’m 24 years old, I just got released out of A-ball, I’ve got a $160,000 education, I’ve got a spot in a prestigious med school waiting for me. Is the most productive use of my time and my skills right now to go sit in the California League? The answer was no.”

At risk of coming off as a diva, Breslow made his decision known to then-Padres farm director Tye Waller.

“I said to him, ‘I appreciate this opportunity. I’m not telling you I deserve to go to Double-A. I’m just saying that if the decision is made that I’m going to go back to A-ball, I’m going to go back home,'” Breslow said. “I think he appreciated the fact that I was honest and up front — and, probably, behind closed doors said ‘Who does this guy think he is?'”

Breslow very nearly wound up at NYU. When the Padres made their initial roster decisions at the end of spring training, they assigned him to High-A Lake Elsinore.

“He calls me,” Calfapietra said, “and he says, ‘Do you still have room for me?'”

Breslow still wasn’t going to sit on his hands. He was going to pitch.

But if he couldn’t pitch in Double-A, he was going to go back to the New Jersey Jackals and pitch for the fun of it for four months before medical school began in August.

Even though Breslow had been up front with the Padres, they still couldn’t quite believe it. Someone even called Calfapietra to ascertain whether Breslow was serious about going home, and Calfapietra informed them that he was quite serious.

“Not too many people would have handled it that way,” Calfapietra said. “There was a chance the Padres weren’t going to call him back to say, ‘We’re going to send you to Double-A.'”

In the end, that’s just what San Diego did. Breslow wound up going to Double-A Mobile — and then, when an emergency arose in late July, straight from Mobile to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia to make his major-league debut. He struck out Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard and threw 12/3 scoreless innings.

By September, when he thought all along he’d be consumed by medical-school classes in New York, he was pitching every two or three days out of the Padres’ bullpen. He finished that season with a 2.20 ERA in 16 1/3 innings.

“Having the kind of courage — courage is the only word — to say, ‘If I can’t make a Double-A roster right now, at my stage, thanks, but no thanks’ — not too many people would have done that,” Calfapietra said. “I don’t know if he doesn’t do that that the cards fall into place the way they did for him.”

Breslow has never looked back. The lefty bounced back and forth between the minors and the majors for the next three years, even making 49 appearances for Triple-A Pawtucket in 2007.

Medical school can wait. It might never happen. He’s made enough contacts throughout the game that he can envision a career either in coaching or in a front office once he retires.

For now, however, he’s focusing all of his energies on playing — something he decided to do as soon as the Padres sent him to Double-A in 2005.

“I have this narrow window to try to succeed in baseball,” he said. “Given the fact that there are a lot of great things I could be doing otherwise with my time, I have no excuse but to commit myself completely to this. If I’m going to choose to do this at the expense of all these other great things I could be doing, it’d better work.”

By Brian MacPherson

May 25, 2013 · Reprinted from The Providence Journal © 2013

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