Durfee finds calling sending kids to games
Youth Cancer Baseball Tour a bright spot for children fighting cancer
DENVER -- Ten years ago, Greg Durfee was living on Skid Row in Los Angeles.
A friend's nephew had died of childhood cancer in 2000. It seemed so unfair.
"It devastated my life,'' he said. "When Nicholas passed away, I was actually at his bedside. I got very angry. We had prayed for him, laid our hands on him, did everything we could, but it wasn't enough.
"I lost everything, even my faith in God.''
Durfee has found his life again, especially God, and he has built his personal revival around a mission to provide happiness to cancer-stricken children.
Durfee created the Youth Cancer Baseball Tour in 2005, beginning in California, where he lived at the time. He has since added Colorado to his annual event, and in this, its ninth year, he is hoping to expand the tour's horizons east, possibly beginning with an event surrounding the All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York. He also wants to add visits for pediatric cancer patients in Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago and Houston.
The genesis of the idea goes back to Nicholas. Two months before Nicholas died, Durfee took him to an Angels game. Nicholas' excitement at the game has never been forgotten by Durfee, who turned 50 in February.
Three years ago, Durfee's program became part of Uncle Frank's Helping Hand, a part of the San Gennaro Foundation, a nonprofit created by Jimmy Kimmel. Uncle Frank was Kimmel's uncle, a security guard on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" and a close friend of Durfee's.
"The goal is to give the children and their families a break from the stress and worrying about battling cancer by sending them to a fun day at the ballpark with each other,'' Durfee said.
Durfee has definitive plans for events at Rockies, Padres, Angels and Dodgers games. He is hoping to add home games for the Mets, Brewers, Tigers, White Sox, Cubs, Astros and D-backs to this year's schedule. It depends on funding.
"We are active with the Cancer Association and local hospitals, like Los Angeles Children's Hospital, Children's Hospital of Orange County and City of Hope,'' he said. "Probably half our kids come from there.''
Life once was so simple for Durfee. He lived in the Los Angeles area and worked in the retail business.
Then Nicholas came into his life, and left far too soon.
"I just dropped out of society,'' Durfee said. "I wasn't showing up for work. I wasn't keeping appointments. I lost my job. I wound up in a hospital in Glendale, but I didn't have any insurance or any place to go and got dumped on Skid Row.
"I spent a year feeling sorry for myself. I had no direction, no plans.''
Then he came upon a men's program at the Union Rescue Mission, designed as a 12-step program for alcoholics. Durfee didn't have an alcohol problem, but felt he fit in because of his "serious depression.'' The program reunited him with God. It gave him the push to get his life back on track.
"Doug DeLuca [Kimmel's producer] sat me down one day and asked me what I wanted to do in life, what my passion was,'' recalled Durfee. "I told him I felt my mission was to help kids and families.''
In 2005, he planted the initial seeds for the Youth Cancer Baseball Tour. Five-year-old Steve Mondragon was battling stomach cancer. Durfee arranged for him to attend an Angels game.
"You should have seen his face,'' said Durfee. "He was so excited. It meant so much to him, and it meant to much to me.''
Even better is that Mondragon won his battle with cancer.
"He's 13 now,'' said Durfee. "He's been cancer free for two years. He played Little League in West Covina. He is just like the other kids. It's so rewarding.''
Two years later, Durfee reached out to family in the Denver area, moving to Colorado in May 2007. A month later, he had a seasonal job with Aramark, the concessionaire at Coors Field. He eventually expanded the Cancer Tour to include Colorado.
He did reach out east in 2011, having events with the Indians, Braves and White Sox, but financial limits put that plan on hold, with the hope he will be able to resume the expansion this summer.
"The dream is the 10-city tour,'' he said. "It would take about $25,000. If we can't raise that money this year, we'll work on it for next year, but we'll definitely continue in Los Angeles and Denver.''
Tracy Ringolsby is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.