AN Exclusive Interview With Craig Breslow (Part II of III)

I chatted with A's lefty Craig Breslow on Thursday morning by phone, in a 25-minute interview I have broken into three parts. Part I is here. Part II, the shortest segment (below, after the jump), focuses on Breslow's personal family history with pediatric cancer and his experiences in the community, and in Part III (running Sunday night), we talk about baseball.

Nico: Before we talk baseball, just to finish up on this topic I know you've done a lot of hospital visits as part of the outreach. Are there any personal stories from visits to hospitals, other events that you've done, that particularly stay with you, that might speak to our readers?

Breslow: I guess the most obvious would be when I first visited Yale Children's Hospital in 2008, I met a number of patients but there was one in particular, a 9-year old boy who was just incredibly vibrant and lively, and you could kind of immediately tell that he was the pillar of strength for his family. And so we kind of immediately took a bond, and that's actually -- if you go onto our web site that's the kid that's pictured on the home page.

And then he actually passed away in the middle of the Summer last year -- I think it was like, 2 or 3 days before his 10th birthday -- and we honored him at our fundraiser last year and named an award for strength and courage in his honor, and presented it to his mother, as the first one last year. And now every year, we plan on awarding someone who has kind of shown strength and courage throughout these tragedies. And we're obviously hoping it's someone who's beaten cancer and maybe kind of uplifted the oncology ward, or maybe touched other people in some way. But I'd say that's definitely one of the most touching stories, the most compelling reasons to continue.

Nico: And in your own life you were 11, is that right, when your sister was diagnosed. ("Yeah") I work with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, so that's the group I'm familiar with - ("Yeah, I was in 6th grade, and my sister was in 8th grade") - and I'm just wondering, as a child how did you cope, what were the things that helped you? Because I know working with kids that how you see and process the world as a 6th grader is just very different from when you look back, and you're 25, and you have an adult view of the world. How did you cope, and what helped?

Breslow: For the most part, I think my parents tried to shelter me as much as possible. I didn't really find out that my sister had cancer until she had been to the doctor a couple times, the diagnosis had been made and she was getting ready to start treatment. I think for the first doctor's appointment or two, they had just kind of dropped me off at a friend's house, and then taken her in and picked her up.

But I can remember on one of those occasions my dad coming to pick me up and he was definitely upset, and he told me Lesley had cancer. And the first thing I asked him was, "Is she going to die?" At 11 years old that's what you associate cancer with. But we were assured it was very treatable and hadn't spread, but...I think that at 11 years old you tend to think of things very simply, you know like, "OK, is someone going to live or are they going to die?" And that's not something that I feel as though any ... {brief pause, voice cracks ever so slightly} an 11-12 year old should have to go through.

Nico: Yeah. Are you glad the way that it was handled? Were you able to be in a good situation as a sibling? I'm just curious -- I guess what I'm interested in is just to also let readers know what it's like for not just the people going through a childhood cancer, but also the people around them, like their (siblings).

Breslow: Right, I mean I think naturally one's reaction is to feel like you should have been told about what was going on all along, there could have been more that you could do, but obviously as an 11-year old I was pretty limited in the scope of things that I could do to help.

But actually what I've found, visiting hospitals and talking to a lot of kids who are sick -- they seem to be the most calm, the most optimistic, the strongest. It's typically family members, siblings, friends, that are the ones most in need of the support. I obviously don't know exactly what the reason is for that but it's been remarkable just to see how strong 8-9-10-11 year old kids are. They kind of inspire the rest of us to be strong.

Nico: You know, I would almost liken it to -- like when you were on the mound last night, you were probably the least nervous person out there. You know, everyone around you {Breslow laughs} - you know what I mean?

Breslow: Yeah, you're probably right. I mean, maybe sometimes the person things are happening to, or the person who seems to be in the most control is typically the calmest, I don't know.

This answer transitioned us into talking about baseball and about Craig Breslow, lefty reliever. Want to know how Breslow explains his success throwing mostly a low-90s fastball? How he feels different working 4 days out of 5 or getting a couple days off? How much attention he pays to the charts, graphs, and data that we love to scrutinize on AN? Stay tuned for Part III, which I'll post Sunday evening...

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