MLB announces 2013 Play Sun Smart initiative

MLB announces 2013 Play Sun Smart initiative

With much of the U.S. experiencing temperatures in the 80s and 90s for the first time this year, this is a good time to remind everyone how to enjoy the great outdoor game and sultry days in a safe way.

Major League Baseball announced on Thursday that it and its clubs are raising awareness this spring and summer through the 2013 Play Sun Smart initiative, which launches throughout the Majors this Sunday.

Clubs will launch the program in a variety of ways, including first pitches and on-field ceremonies for special guests affected by skin cancer, young fans delivering sun screen to dugouts and the launch of a new league-wide scoreboard race to educate fans about playing safe in the sun. Additionally, MLB players, coaches and staff will serve as role models for fans by participating in skin cancer screenings and practicing sun-safe behaviors throughout the season.

"It's very important to Major League Baseball that everyone involved in our game, from players to fans, are protecting themselves when exposed to the sun," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "As a melanoma survivor, this cause is especially close to me, and I am proud that we continue to work with the American Academy of Dermatology to educate as many people as possible about skin cancer prevention and detection."

For example, the 15th Annual Play Sun Smart Day at Safeco Field will be on Tuesday, when the Mariners take on the White Sox. All fans there will receive a sample of sunscreen, and Dr. John Olerud, head of dermatology at the University of Washington Medical School, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game. Dr. Olerud was an All-American catcher at Washington State and is the father of former Mariners first baseman John Olerud.

Play Sun Smart is a 15-year joint effort by MLB and the American Academy of Dermatology. The goal of Play Sun Smart is to raise awareness of skin cancer and offer prevention and detection tips to the baseball community. Since 1999, Academy dermatologists have conducted more than 31,000 skin cancer screenings through this program. Just like players and club employees, fans are asked to practice safe sun behaviors and to find a free skin cancer screening in their area by visiting SpotSkinCancer.org.

Early detection of skin cancer is essential. Fans can spot skin cancer early by regularly looking over their entire bodies, including the back, scalp, soles, between the toes and on the palms. If there are any changes in the size, color, shape or texture of a mole, if a new mole develops or any other unusual changes in the skin occur, fans are encouraged to make an appointment to see a dermatologist.

Last year, Hall of Famer Johnny Bench was a Play Sun Smart spokesperson, having been diagnosed with and treated for basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer, on both of his lower eyelids.

"I've always been around skin cancers," Bench said in 2012. "My lawyer has it, my in-laws have it and unfortunately for me, I had it. I'm a survivor. I had Mohs surgery on the lower lids of both eyes. I had them removed in January, and fortunately for me it's an area where most of this is curable, 98 percent curable.

"I know that as you age, you are probably going to develop some form of skin cancer. My doctor said old age and sunshine will do that. When they approached me, it was a very easy decision. I don't want anybody to have to go through that. I've seen so many people in Florida and California, and of course you don't just have to be in the Sun Belt, you're going to develop sun cancer soon or later. Skin cancer, whether it be a mole or a change in color, you need to see your dermatologist to make sure you are all right."

The Play Sun Smart awareness program is one of several cancer-related initiatives supported by Major League Baseball. Other initiatives include Stand Up To Cancer, whose mission is to support groundbreaking scientific research aimed at getting new cancer treatments to patients quickly; the Mother's Day Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer initiative, to help increase awareness of breast cancer and raise money toward the search for a cure; and the Prostate Cancer Foundation Home Run Challenge, which helps increase awareness of prostate cancer and raise money for the search for a cure as part of the MLB Father's Day celebration.

To learn more about Major League Baseball's charitable initiatives, please visit MLBCommunity.org.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. 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.