06/19/09 10:00 AM ET
MLB's blue reminder on Father's Day
Entire league will sport color for prostate cancer awareness
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
Major League Baseball will be blue all over to commemorate Father's Day once again Sunday, from the original wristbands tribute to lineup cards and uniform logos. With these blues, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, leading the fight against the cancer that strikes one in six men, will continue to find great joy, because the message is being conveyed and resources are being gathered to fight the dreaded disease.This is one killer that early detection and heightened awareness can combat, and that's where baseball's players and teams -- and more important, its fans -- have stepped up to the plate and delivered. Spearheaded by the annual Home Run Challenge, it's a partnership that has raised more than $31 million for the cause, with those funds going directly to the PCF for research. From what began with a few blue wristbands a few years ago, it's now a full-fledged enterprise of awareness and hope. "I'd call it institutionalized now," said Dave Perron, the vice president for baseball and sports enterprises for the PCF. "It's really become a big part of what we do, and something we're really proud to see continuing to have success across baseball." So again this Father's Day, baseball will honor dads by spreading the word. At every game played this Blue Sunday, players, managers, coaches, trainers, umpires and groundskeepers will don blue wristbands and ribbon uniform decals, all clubs will use a special blue dugout lineup card and at stadiums across the country valuable information will be imparted. The goal of of it all? To promote awareness of prostate cancer and show support for those fighting it and those whose families have been touched by it. The Home Run Challenge, the keynote of this ongoing effort with one Major Leaguer representing each club, will come to its conclusion for another year on Sunday as well. Now in its 13th year, the Challenge enables fans to make monetary donations to the Prostate Cancer Foundation at www.pcf.org for each home run hit during MLB games from June 11-21, including all games played on Father's Day. Major League Baseball Charities has committed $50,000 to PCF as part of the "Home Run Challenge" program. It's all part of one big, blue reminder about prostate cancer. Baseball will be glad to deliver the reminder once again the Sunday. "Major League Baseball is pleased to support the efforts of the Prostate Cancer Foundation through the Home Run Challenge to help generate increased awareness for prostate cancer and the urgent need to find a cure," said Commissioner Bud Selig. "Prostate cancer has affected many members of the Major League Baseball family, and we hope to draw attention to this disease as we reach out to our players, fans and communities to support the search for a cure." Joe Torre doesn't need a reminder, but he'll be glad to deliver one. One of the most famous baseball figures to have battled the disease, the Dodgers' manager was diagnosed with an aggressive form of the cancer in 1999 after a test taken at Spring Training revealed it. He decided to undergo surgery in St. Louis after wife Ali, whose father had had prostate cancer, spent endless hours on the Internet to research the various alternatives. That's why Torre encourages prostate cancer patients to embrace the aid of their partners in fighting the disease. He also still exercises regularly, eats healthy and drinks gallons of green tea. Marcel Lachemann doesn't need a reminder, but he'll be glad to deliver one. The longtime baseball man, now a special assistant for the Rockies, Lachemann was treated for prostate cancer after a routine Spring Training check, also. He says men don't have to wait for Spring Training, or any excuse, to get checked. "I don't think anyone should die just because he wasn't checked," Lachemann said. "I did it through the Rockies, but it's a simple test. Anyone can call his doctor and ask for it."
Carl Hamilton, one of the pioneers of using video for baseball operations, doesn't need a reminder, but he'll be glad to deliver one.Behind the scenes as the Mariners' video coordinator, Hamilton steps up front to help people realize what's at stake. "If you catch it soon enough, you can survive it," Hamilton said. "But you have to catch it early and that's why the PSA test is so important. I would highly recommend it to everyone." Astros pitcher Chris Sampson doesn't need a reminder, but he'll be glad to deliver one. His grandfather, Roy Sampson, died of prostate cancer when Chris was an infant, so his family is well aware of the disease -- and the need to stay aware of it. "My dad and his brother are always really concerned about it and getting checked up and making sure they go to their yearly physicals and everything like that," said Sampson, a 31-year-old right-hander. "Once you get to a certain age you have to really start paying attention to it and checking it out. I don't think I'm in that area in my life as far as age-wise, but dad makes sure he gets stuff done and I always encourage him to do it. It's definitely in the back of my mind." Indeed, much like their participation with the Mother's Day "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" program and the Stand Up To Cancer initiative, people around baseball reach out oftentimes because they have been touched by the disease themselves, directly or indirectly. "My thing is that cancer touches so many people, whether it's breast cancer, prostate cancer, or any sort of cancer, it's anything you can do to help out the people that are going through that," said the Tigers' Brandon Inge. "None of it's easy, no matter what kind it is. You don't really understand how healthy we are until you see someone who's had to go through these sort of cancer treatments. It's nothing to play around with, so I feel like it's an honor for us to be a part of it, to help out with." Perron has been touring Major League ballparks in advance of Blue Sunday, meeting with teams and players about the effort, bringing Tommy Lasorda along for part of the ride and finding one common theme: People all over have been touched by prostate cancer. "Every place we go, the connection is there," Perron said. "And through the awareness that comes from those connections to baseball and its fans, we've raised a lot of money. All the relationships we have in baseball have been great touchstones for people to see how this really affects a lot of lives." To this degree: Every three minutes a man is diagnosed with prostate cancer in the United States; every 19 minutes a man dies of prostate cancer.
The number of new prostate cancer cases has more than tripled in the past decade, with more than 186,000 men diagnosed each year.
More than 28,500 men died of prostate cancer in 2008.
Family history of prostate cancer is a strong risk factor for developing the disease, so men who have a a father, brother, or son with prostate cancer are twice as likely to develop the disease, and those with two or more of those relatives are nearly four times as likely to be diagnosed. Thus, the PCF and MLB have a fight on their hands, with awareness their main weapon. The effort began when financier Mike Milken started the foundation in 1993. Shortly thereafter, Perron -- who previously worked with the A's as their community relations director -- joined the effort and became Milken's baseball man, spearheading the Home Run Challenge and occasionally helping with some etiquette. "I had to remind him not to send thank you letters to pitchers after they gave up a home run," Perron joked. Just a few years later, the relationship between baseball and the fight against prostate cancer is stronger than ever, and a bond that made perfect sense from the beginning continues to prosper. "When you have a men's disease like this and when you have a sport played by men that's part of our fabric, it's an incredible asset to have in order to increase awareness," Perron said. "It's something that we treat with a lot of respect and reverence, and appreciation." In turn, baseball will keep fighting the disease, one Blue Sunday at a time.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, The Grind. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.