"Hopefully when I get to the point that I have kids, I can be as good of a father as he was, and try to make sure that my kid is ambitious, and keeps his head on his shoulder like my father has done with me. Some guys really want their kids to be successful in sports or to be a doctor or a lawyer, but he just wanted me to be the best that I could be at whatever I wanted. He told me, 'Never think that you can't achieve something.'"
Father's Day 2008: It's a symbolic Sunday for the game of baseball and for the hallowed rite of passage. It's also a symbolic way for the Major League Baseball family and millions of fans to participate in an annual good cause, because MLB once again will prominently team up with the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) to increase awareness and early detection of a disease that strikes one in six American men.
All Major League games played on Sunday will recognize those whose lives have been affected by prostate cancer and communicate invaluable health information regarding the disease. On-field personnel including players, managers, coaches, trainers, umpires and groundskeepers will wear blue wristbands, blue eye glare and blue ribbon uniform decals -- symbolizing prostate cancer awareness, as everyone did last month with the pink touches to fight breast cancer on Mother's Day.
The blue ribbon logo also will appear on the bases, commemorative home plates and the official dugout lineup cards. Game-used bases, team-autographed commemorative home plates and lineup cards from each ballpark will be up for bidding at the MLB.com Auction to raise additional funds for PCF, and fans can bid there now on such items from past Father's Day events. Because so many people are asking, it should also be noted that those stunning pink bats that were used by players on Mother's Day are expected to start rolling out at the MLB.com Auction in the next week, with all proceeds from that one going to Susan B. Komen for the Cure.
One of the key components of the Father's Day initiative is the Home Run Challenge, a program supported by all 30 clubs and its players. The challenge is now in its 12th year, and fans are able to make monetary donations for each home run hit during 60 select MLB games ranging from June 5-15, including all games played on Father's Day.
"This is an awesome cause," said Cardinals outfielder Ryan Ludwick, one of the big stories this season with 16 homers through Wednesday. "Anytime you can do anything to benefit a cause like that, it's pretty cool. I guess I've got to hit a lot of homers so I can help out. I think this is a great idea."
"I don't think as many people know about prostate cancer, but I think it's great that baseball is doing something with it," said Pirates first baseman Adam LaRoche. "They're taking advantage of an opportunity to raise awareness from it. I don't know anybody who's had it, so I don't know what they're going through or anything, but anything that ends with 'cancer' can't be that good so hopefully this can help some people out."
Major League Baseball Charities has committed $50,000 to the PCF as part of the "Home Run Challenge" program. Since its inception, the initiative has raised more than $30 million toward prostate cancer research, and all funds raised go directly toward that research. The goal is $2.5 million in 2008, and every bit is important. The disease is diagnosed in almost 200,000 American men each year, and if detected early through proper screening, survival rates are extremely high.
Each Major League Club has at least one player representative who is publicly supporting the challenge. Take Brandon Inge, for example. He is the Tigers' representative. There is no big history of prostate cancer in his family, but he has become involved in the fight against cancer in many different forms. Inge's wife lost a grandmother to breast cancer, and the couple has been active volunteers and donors at Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich. He has visited and hosted kids with cancer at the hospital and at the ballpark, and donated around $100,000 out of the contract he signed a couple years ago to help build and furnish an activity room in the children's cancer wing at the hospital.
"Any cancer is [a cause]," Inge said. "I'm all about people in need and people who have health problems. They didn't ask for it. So anything you can do to help, I don't care what it is -- leukemia, cancer. Why should you limit it to one form when [there are] so many people suffering?"
Lee Elia knows that scary feeling all too well. Today the Mariners' hitting coach looks healthy as a horse and is looking at his 71st birthday on July 16. But there were some worrisome times back in 1997, when he was told that he had prostate cancer.
"During my regular physical in Spring Training in '96, my PSA number was high (8.00) but they couldn't find any cancer in my prostrate when they took a biopsy," Elia said. "They gave me a pill that I took for an entire year and the next spring I took another PSA and it had increased to 9. They did more comprehensive testing and there's a thing called the 'Gleason count' -- which indicates whether the cancer is the kind that will grow quickly. If it is, they will do something immediately and my Gleason count was up and I had three options -- remove the prostrate, the most radical, freeze it, or do the seed implants, which is what I had. And here we are, 11 years later, and I'm cancer free. My latest PSA was .01."
His advice today: "I would say that it would be foolish, if you are over 50 years of age, not to take a PSA test every year. That would save a lot of lives. The strides they have made in finding and treating prostrate cancer is amazing."
Father's Day 2008: It's Dusty Baker, in his first year as manager of the Reds and in a permanent state of watchfulness over prostate cancer. Baker, who just turned 59, was diagnosed in December 2001, the year before he would manage the Giants to a World Series. Prostate cancer is treated in various ways, including radiation, hormone therapy or chemotherapy, but most likely during its more advanced stages with radical prostate removal surgery called a prostatectomy -- which Baker underwent for a successful removal.
"I was really grateful for a lot of things," said Baker, whose son, Darren, was 3 at the time of Dusty's diagnosis. "I started seeing birds again, listening to them, seeing stars again, not being totally encompassed with work all the time. You deal with it because of your family. I knew I had a lot to live for, I mean for my son and for my wife, who stuck with me [as well as] my mom and my dad. I support a lot of people in my family."
Cubs coach Ivan DeJesus, 55, discovered his PSA was high during a checkup in Puerto Rico last year. The numbers were still high when he reported to Spring Training in February 2007, so he came to Chicago for a biopsy. There was a positive finding, and DeJesus underwent surgery last Aug. 28. He said he is in the clear now.
"The good thing was finding out early," DeJesus said. "It wasn't anything real bad, it never spread out, and it was only one area when they did the biopsy. Everything else was clear. He said we could wait, but we have to take care of this as soon as possible.
"If you're over 40, start getting tested early. If you check yourself early, you have a good chance to beat it."
Father's Day 2008: It's Jim Thome, one of the players involved in the Home Run Challenge. He said his father deals with prostate issues, but thankfully does not have the cancer. He said his grandfather has survived prostate cancer.
"It's important, you know," said the White Sox slugger. "To be honest, I wanted to learn about the awareness of it and educate myself as well."
When asked what he found out, he replied: "The numbers are pretty eye-catching, to where ... it puts it in perspective. This is a cancer that we need to make to put the awareness out there to make sure men get checked and get their check up. Don't be afraid to go to your doctor and ask questions."
Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, whose maternal grandfather is battling prostate cancer, added: "It's a big deal. Anything we as athletes can do to raise money or raise awareness is great. This is a bad thing and it affects a lot of people."
There is nothing quite like Father's Day, especially around a sport that is so commonly handed down from a Dad to his child. Another one arrives this Sunday, adorned in blue ribbon and meaningful for more reasons than ever.
Father's Day means so much, and you can feel it in the perspective of Indians pitcher Paul Byrd, who lost his brother, Mike Hahn, to colon cancer in 2001.
"Baseball's important. I want to win the World Series, I want to give my all," he said. "But when something like that happens, it puts things in perspective. It's nice that baseball, our national pastime, can be used for something other than bragging rights and stats. It can be used to help people out. If it saves one father's life, what a great deal. And I'm not just saying that. I'm very much into fatherhood. I think baseball is so much about fatherhood -- playing catch with your dad, learning about life through baseball and mixing it up with other guys. I think that's what it's all about. It's nice that baseball recognizes something like that."