Strike 3 Foundation

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

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Thinking man’s game

The Wall Street Journal once labeled him "the smartest man in baseball, if not the entire world," and the presence of a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University would appear to support the claim.

Craig Breslow chuckles at the moniker that has stuck with him through eight seasons of professional baseball. But the Trumbull, Conn., native certainly was smart enough to realize his future on the diamond was in serious question when the Milwaukee Brewers, who had picked him in the 26th round of the 2002 draft, unceremoniously released him two years later during the 2004 season.

"When you’re released as a 23-year-old after being a 26th-round draft pick, you’d have to be pretty foolish if you didn’t have some serious doubts [about making it]," Breslow said. "I was really close to giving up on baseball. I felt like toiling in the minors for years when I had this great educational background wouldn’t have made much sense."

For once, Breslow went with his heart instead of his brain. Rather than returning to school to pursue the medical degree that always has been his goal, Breslow gave baseball one more shot. He hooked on with the New Jersey Jackals in the independent Northeast League for the rest of 2004, then was signed by San Diego out of a tryout camp the following year.

His major league debut came with the Padres on July 23, 2005, and while there’s been some more bumps along the way as he was non-tendered by San Diego and waived by three other teams, he enters the 2010 season having established himself as one of the top left-handed relievers in the majors.

"Going into this year, hopefully I have established a role for myself now," Breslow, now 29, said. "I’ll never be complacent, but I think I’ve proven myself a bit now."

Breslow had some success in his various stops. He had a 3.75 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 12 innings with the Red Sox in 2006 and a 1.91 ERA in 47 innings split between Cleveland and Minnesota in 2008. But it wasn’t until he was claimed off waivers by Oakland on May 20, 2009, that everything really came together for him.

Breslow finished the year second in the American League in appearances with 77, including 60 with the A’s. He went 7-5 in Oakland with a 2.60 ERA and 44 K’s against just 18 walks in 55¹⁄³ innings. Long considered a lefty specialist, Breslow finally was given a chance to get hitters from both sides of the plate out, and actually had more success against righties (.191 opponents’ average) than lefties (.204) last year.

"I like to think I can do more than just get lefties out," Breslow said. "I think if you look at my splits I’ve had pretty similar numbers against righties as I have against lefties."

The A’s certainly are glad Breslow put off med school and stuck with baseball. So are a lot of people away from the diamond.

As much as he has contributed on the field, Breslow has proven even more valuable off it with his tireless charity work for pediatric cancer research and treatment. Breslow has a very personal reason for such efforts, as his older sister Lesley was diagnosed with pediatric thyroid cancer when she was 13 and Breslow was 11. Lesley Breslow has been in remission for over 15 years, but that harrowing experience was enough to make Breslow want to do everything in his power to prevent any other families from going through the same ordeal.

"That had a dramatic impact on my life," Breslow said. "A couple of years ago, I was playing for the Red Sox at the time, and I felt it was as good a time as ever to do something."

For many players, "doing something" would mean donating some money and maybe making a few appearances to raise more funds. That wasn’t enough for Breslow, who instead chose to launch his own organization, The Strike 3 Foundation (

"The control freak I am, I knew I had to do my own thing and not just be a spokesman for an existing charity and show up at a few events," Breslow said. "I like the autonomy of being able to allocate the revenue where I see fit. … I think there’s some value in being more than just some athlete or celebrity lending their name to some cause."

Breslow’s work, which includes an annual gala each November (this past year’s featured Nomar Garciaparra as a speaker and a performance by reggae star Shaggy, while NHL star and fellow Trumbull native Chris Drury of the New York Rangers has helped out at other events), already has raised $215,000 and distributed more than $160,000 in its first 2½ years despite the rough economic times.

"If you told me two years ago that the economy was going to be in its biggest downtown in 80 years, I probably would have said this isn’t a good time to be asking for charity dollars," said Breslow, who spent nights during a past spring training filling out paperwork to register the foundation as a charity with the IRS.

While many charities raise money for support services for cancer patients and their families, Breslow’s focus strictly is on research and treatment.

"I figure if you eliminate the disease, you eliminate the need for counseling for family members and all of those type of support services," Breslow explained. "If you have no cancer, then you don’t have to find a way to ever tell a kid that he has cancer. That’s my goal."

Breslow may have an even more direct impact on cancer treatment in the future, as he hasn’t ruled out going back to med school after baseball. He just hopes that won’t be a decision he has to make for quite some time.

"It’s definitely something I think about," Breslow said. "I’m enjoying what I’m doing now. I’d love to be doing this for another 12 years, so I don’t know where that would leave me, but I definitely think about it."

In the meantime, he’ll have to satisfy his intellectual itch in other ways — such as settling bets for old teammates. One such occasion came in 2007, when he was called upon to solve a pressing issue in the Red Sox clubhouse. Somehow, Josh Beckett and Doug Mirabelli got caught up in a debate over how many times a ball thrown at 95 mph would make a full revolution between the mound and the plate. Naturally, the only person they knew who could solve the problem was Breslow.

"I was in Pawtucket and Josh left me an urgent message that I had to help him out," Breslow recalled. "I think it ended up being about 12.4 [rotations]. I’m not sure who won the bet, but I did my part."

Maybe solving that dilemma is why Breslow received a World Series ring in 2007 despite not facing a single batter with the big club. He was called up on Sept. 1 but sent back to Pawtucket the next day without having pitched in Boston.

He’s done a lot more in Oakland, but his reputation as an Ivy League science wiz still precedes him.

"Breslow knows everything," A’s starter Dallas Braden told last year. "I seriously want to be Craig Breslow when I grow up. He knows things most baseball players wouldn’t even try to think about. … I’m not saying we’re all a bunch of rockheads, but if we were, he’d know how to build some kind of laser to break up the rocks and turn them into something way cooler."

Thus, Breslow’s claim as baseball’s smartest man lives on, much to his amusement.

"I take my share of ribbing for it, players give me a hard time," Breslow said. "But when I think about the nicknames that are out there, being called the world’s smartest man, I’ll gladly take that.

"I’m regarded as an expert no matter what the subject is," Breslow added. "Even if I don’t know anything about it, whatever I say is treated like gospel, which is pretty amusing to me."

By Douglas Flynn

March 5, 2010 · Reprinted from © 2010

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

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Monroe, CT 06468

(203) 502-0007

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