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Tampa Bay touched by cancer
Players, coaches, owner affected by disease

By Mychael Urban /

When many of us think of big league baseball players and executives, we marvel at their charmed lives. Adulation, riches and pampering are part and parcel of the experience, and we imagine how wonderful it all must be.

For the Rays, who earned their first World Series berth in franchise history, the 2008 season truly was wonderful in many ways.

But as is the case for most Rays fans, several members of the organization have been affected in some way by the struggles and heartaches associated with cancer.

Rays ace Scott Kazmir's mother, Deborah, is a breast cancer survivor. Manager Joe Maddon struck up a friendship with teenager John Challis, who has since died of liver cancer. Third-base coach Tom Foley's parents both died of cancer, his father of prostate cancer and his mother of lung cancer. Owner Stuart Sternberg also lost his mother to lung cancer, and play-by-play man Dewayne Staats lost his wife to lung cancer.

"Unfortunately," Sternberg said, "most families have to deal with cancer at some point."

Major League Baseball has long been raising funds and awareness in the battle against cancer. You see it every Mother's Day in the pink bats players swing in the name of breast cancer. You see it every Father's Day in the blue wristbands and eye black -- eye blue, in this case -- worn in the name of prostate cancer.

You also see it with baseball's participation in the Stand Up For Cancer program. Earlier this year, MLB provided an initial contribution of $10 million.

In Tampa Bay specifically, you see it in Maddon's office, where a framed Rays jersey with Challis' name on the back hangs in his office.

"This means so much to me," Maddon said of the jersey. "Hopefully, I'll call this office mine for a long time. But when the day comes that they ask me to leave, this is going with me. I'm going to cherish this for the rest of my life."

Maddon feels the same way about a baseball on which Challis wrote to him, "Best of luck in the future."

"Can you believe that?" Maddon said. "Here's a young man whose own future was so uncertain, yet he was wishing us good luck in the future. That's amazing, really inspiring."

Maddon now has T-shirts that say, "All Aboard Maddon's Bus. There's a Different Bus Driver Every Night."

All proceeds from the T-shirt sales benefit the Courage for Life Foundation, established in honor of Challis earlier this year. The organization aids children and young adults with cancer. The shirts can be purchased online at

Sternberg is on H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute's national board of advisors. Staats is active in promoting cancer awareness, and he supports the cancer center at Southern Illinois in Springfield. Foley wears a wrist band in recognition of prostate cancer.

And Kazmir, who was told about his mother's disease when he was in fifth grade, wears his heart on his sleeve.

"It's a disease that touches everyone," he said, "and everyone should be involved in the fight against it."

Mychael Urban is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.