Fans for the Cure celebrates All-Stars in prostate cancer fight
Annual event raises awareness of disease, funds for research
By Mark Newman
NEW YORK -- On the one hand, you had guys like Al Leiter (who intentionally walked 53 batters) and Steve Garvey (who was intentionally walked 113 times) talking about the expected intentional walk rule change, both of them citing their 19-year Major League Baseball careers and shrugging off any significance of those familiar formality pitches.
On the other hand, you had prostate cancer.
They were two topics of ballroom conversation at the complete opposite ends of the spectrum in the grand scheme of things. But that's the beauty of Ed Randall's annual Fans for the Cure All-Star Celebration Dinner, because this event, held Thursday at 583 Park in Manhattan, drives home a mantra of testing early for prostate cancer in a way of talking baseball.
"I'm blessed to be a cancer-free survivor, and to be chairman of the board of Ed's prostate cancer awareness foundation," said Garvey, 68, the former Dodgers and Padres great who underwent surgery nearly five years ago to have a radical prostatectomy. "We're getting men to talk about the single deadliest men's killer, prostate cancer, and we're raising money each year so we can reach thousands and thousands of men through baseball."
Like Garvey, Randall, a longtime fixture in New York media, is a prostate cancer survivor. D-backs bench coach and former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire last week became the latest known example of how the disease is all too commonplace within the MLB family.
"We're going to solve this thing," Randall said. "We believe in zero tolerance, that nobody should die of prostate cancer, that early detection is everything, and I'm one of those lucky guys who got a second at-bat in life. I will be the car alarm that will not turn off about this. ... We want no empty seats on Thanksgiving, on Hannukah or on Christmas. We want to keep families together."
This dinner honored three individuals with A Fan For Life awards: Pro Football Hall of Famer and former New York Giants inside linebacker Harry Carson; Mike Thompson, executive vice president of marketing at Rawlings; and Dr. Charles Drake, professor of oncology and immunology at the Columbia University Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center.
In a room full of people who devote money and time to the cause, Drake represented a leading scientific voice for progress. He directs that center's Genitourinary Cancer Program and co-directs the Immunotherapy Program, and he holds several patents, many of which have been translated to patients in Phase 1 clinical trials.
"It's truly a pleasure to be here with this fine organization dedicated to what I'm dedicated to, which is eliminating prostate cancer as a cause of death," Drake said. "Our research is focused on something a little bit different than many. ... The goal is to take these immune therapies to earlier-stage patients, perhaps as early as the time of diagnosis, and even before surgery."
Thompson has spent the past 33 years at Rawlings and is a familiar figure within the sports industry. He has been instrumental in expanding the company's award platform to include a philanthropic version known as the Heart of Gold Award.
"The corporate responsibility for us is to give back, that's part of our DNA," Thompson said. "It makes us who we are ... it's better to give than to receive."
Carson was one of those NFL greats from historically black colleges introduced right before the recent Super Bowl, in his case South Carolina State University. A 13-year member of the Giants and captain of their 1986 title team, Carson has teamed with the Pro Football Hall of Fame to increase the awareness of prostate cancer, especially among Asian, Latino and African-American men.
"At some point, everybody in this room is going to be affected by prostate cancer," Carson told the ballroom crowd. "Whether it's a mother with a son, a husband, a brother, you're going to be affected in some way."
Carson said his wife, Maribel, has been "like a pit bull" in always pushing him to get checkups, and he stressed that everyone take up that habit of being pushy. Carson, 63, said he has been getting tested since he was 37, and he said he has tried to be an advocate for his former teammates among others.
"It's better to know than not know," he said. "Prostate cancer is very curable, very treatable, but you've got to catch it early."
In fact, current studies report that survivability rates for prostate cancer that is detected early are as high as 98 percent. That said, prostate cancer claimed the lives of 28,000 men in 2015 in the U.S. alone. Together with their partners, Fans for the Cure holds PSA screenings and advocates for early testing for prostate cancer. It costs only $50 to conduct a PSA test, and donations are accepted to help make that possible to help reach high-risk individuals in underserved communities.
Randall said that expansion of the organization's message into those communities is a key focus for '17. Their hope is that the ballparks they visit for their annual summer road trip to Major League and Minor Leagues games will serve as "gateways" to surrounding communities.
"We're just so flattered to have the support of our friends and our sponsors in support of our educational programs, which are going to expand this year, and most especially doing a lot of free screenings all around the country, in ballparks, also in the greater communities to get as many people as we can to save as many lives as we can," Randall said.
Former Major League player and manager Bobby Valentine was on hand to emcee the live auction before the dinner. When asked where we are with fighting prostate cancer, Valentine said, "Hopefully in the homestretch."
"There's been a lot of money raised and there's been a lot of care that has been given, and I'm hoping that in my lifetime -- and it's 2017 and I've been wishing this for 15 years -- that we find cures," he said. "We're gaining on prostate cancer, and that's a good thing. But for all of the cancers, I'm hoping that those who have suffered from it, those families and friends who have been afflicted by it, I can only pray that in their lifetime as well as mine that we find a cure."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.