Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"Pink" October: Using Sports to Share the Story of Those with Cancer

Will Clark is my all-time favorite baseball player. As I've grown and matured, I have come to appreciate the humanity of "Will the Thrill." This is code for the fact that I get why I love "The Natural" and why others might not. Clark can be hot-headed and shrill. In baseball terms, he is a "red-ass." Will never held back his emotion. He always played hard; he expected no less of anyone else. Just look at his reaction after clinching the Division in 1987. His parents watched in disbelief. They turned to one another and Bill, his dad said to his wife, "He didn't just say that, did he?!" They knew, like his true fans do, that he said it and he meant it.
Will had and still has a tremendously loyal fan base. Go to any San Francisco Giants game, and you can't help but see how many other people feel the same way. #22 Clark jerseys abound; they always make me smile. But Will also had his enemies and one of them is Jeffrey "the HacMan" Leonard. If you are interested in the alleged details of their conflict, read here. Looking at this relationship 25 years removed, my guess is both parties were to blame. Both men have very strong personalities and hot heads. Those things are bound to collide, and they did—that's baseball, that's life. 

Go to AT&T Park today and you won't see many Leonard jerseys. Traded to the Seattle Mariners in 1988, he played for the Giants for 7 years. You might, however, see Jeffrey Leonard promoting charity events, attending speaking engagements with boosters and visiting suites during home games. That right, the HacMan was hired this year as a Giants' community ambassador (Giants Magazine). 

When I read that Leonard was "a professional schmoozer" in the July 2014 issue of Giants Magazine, I was a little surprised. Was he a good guy? Why might he be a good fit for the larger Giants community? In his prime, Leonard was an All-Star outfielder who was also named the MVP of the NLCS—even in defeat (to the Cardinals. Boo!). I also learned that he is committed to something much larger than the Giants: The One-Flap Down Foundation.

"Leonard's stepdaughter Christine, a single mother of three, was diagnosed with breast cancer five months ago. After watching her go through the experience, Leonard and his wife Karen, started a charity to support single parents battling cancer. We deal with the everyday needs, he says. Transportation, house cleaning, bringing them food five days a week, laundry—whatever they need. We try to take the burden off people."

I couldn't believe what I read. I have always believed that single parents are heroes. Being a parents is already a 24-hour a day job. Doing that solo—without the support of a spouse—is that much more demanding. Add an illness like cancer into the equation and your full plate is now too heavy.
A reunion of the 1987 team. 
I am grateful that Leonard is using his platform to draw attention to the reality of another group affected by cancer. I am encouraged by the work of his foundation to assist and meet the needs of this population, one I had never thought about before.

Growing up Catholic, the month of October meant two things. One, it was the month of the Rosary. As I got older, I became aware of the fact it is also "Respect for Life"month. Today, we widely recognize October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I aim to pray the rosary for all of those who are affected by cancer, especially single parents with this disease. Recognizing them, holding them in our prayers and hearing their story is a remarkable way to Respect Life. It's also a telling reminder: Life is indeed a gift.

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