CHICAGO -- In Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, Matt Szczur loaned Anthony Rizzo one of his bats, and the first baseman used it to hit a home run in the fifth inning, helping propel the Cubs to a 10-2 victory over the Dodgers. After the game, Szczur was asked about the bat, and once the media throng departed, a reporter approached the outfielder to say thank you.
Szczur had helped save the life of the man's wife.
"I'm not sure who he was," Szczur said. "The media by my locker was outrageous, and then he came up to me afterward, and said to me, 'Hey, you might not know this, but there's a lot of people who appreciate what you've done.' I'm thinking, 'Is this about the bat?' He said, 'It's about donating bone marrow.'"
Thanksgiving is a perfect time to give thanks to people like Szczur. Here's some background: When he was 20 years old and a two-sport star at Villanova, Szczur's football coach, Andy Talley, encouraged players to get involved in the "Be The Match" bone marrow donor program. Szczur was the first player from 'Nova who was a match, and he provided bone marrow for a 15-month-old Ukranian girl, Anastasia Olkhovsky, who was battling Leukemia. Szczur also was a standout baseball player at Villanova, and he risked his career by having the procedure done one month before the June 2010 Major League Draft.
For anyone who missed it yesterday here's the link to my updated bone marrow story. https://t.co/bUsyRMmspM Password: Szczur (Capital S)
The Cubs had seen enough of the outfielder, and they selected Szczur in the fifth round. This year, he was on the big league roster for the entire season for the first time, batting .259 in 107 games and contributing off the bench. As for Anastasia, Szczur eventually did meet her and her family via Skype when she was 4 years old, and he chatted again with them this year.
At Dodger Stadium in October, Szczur, 27, came face to face with the impact his donation had when Jack Magruder, a D-backs beat writer for Fanragsports.com, approached him.
"He said, 'We really appreciate people like you and we're very happy to have somebody like you around,'" Szczur said. "He got choked up. It gave his wife another chance at life. It was really cool to see. If all this stuff, the bat and everything else, wouldn't have happened, it wouldn't have been as big. Maybe he wouldn't have come up to talk to me. Everything happens for a reason."
In May, Magruder's wife, Janie, received a bone marrow donation from a 19-year-old male.
"When I told Matt that the transplant saved her life, I meant it," Magruder said. "We were told it is a lot harder on the transplant donor than on the recipient. Janie basically was given an IV drip of the new blood cells, and we were told donors go through a several-day process to harvest the marrow."
Her transplant went smoothly, and she is now cancer-free. Magruder said the doctor described her condition as "pristine."
"We are so grateful for our donor and for Matt and people like him who give selflessly so that others can confront and overcome serious health issues," Magruder said. "They may not realize how valuable they are, but we do."
Szczur is finding out.
"When he came up to me, it wasn't that I saved Anastasia's life," Szczur said. "I gave hope to other people's lives as well. I think anybody would do it in the right circumstance and given the opportunity. I don t think I'm more special than anyone else. It makes me feel good -- it gives us hope."
If anything, Szczur is hoping to raise awareness of the need for bone marrow donors. He joined Talley at a fundraiser last offseason that raised $60,000, and he hopes to do something in his hometown of Cape May, N.J.
"What a good year to do it, after a World Series victory," Szczur said.
Someday, Szczur would like to meet Anastasia face to face. It was a 1-in-80,000 chance that he'd be a match for someone. It worked.
"I'm pretty much Anastasia's life insurance," Szczur said. "If anything happened, I'd be the first one they'd call."
"No regrets whatsoever," Szczur said.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.