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

I chatted with A's lefty Craig Breslow Thursday morning by phone, in a 25-minute interview I have broken into three parts. Part I (after the jump) focuses largely on Craig Breslow's "Strike 3" Foundation and the Blackjack charity event in San Francisco Wednesday night, August 4th.

Part II (Saturday morning) will focus on more personal aspects of Breslow's family history with pediatric cancer and his experience doing charity work in the community, and in Part III (Sunday after the game), we talk baseball.

Nico: So just to start off I wanted to give you a chance to talk about: What do you most want fans to know about pediatric cancer, the "Strike 3 foundation," and the event coming up?

Breslow: OK, so I guess the salient points are that I started the "Strike 3" Foundation about two years ago in 2008 and at the time I was pretty deeply rooted in Connecticut, I was playing for the Red Sox at the time, I had gone to school in Connecticut, and felt like it was a good time for me to do something in the community to give back.

Obviously since that time I've spent of different stints with a number of different teams and traveled around the country, and now feeling like I've kind of entrenched myself in the Bay Area, I feel it's a good time to try to extend our scope out this way.

In a little over two years we've raised close to $250,000 for pediatric cancer research. Included in that has been a grant to Cure Search, which is an international partnership between the Children's Oncology Group and the National Cancer Federation...We've also impacted two pediatric cancer hospitals in Connecticut, one being Yale Children's Hospital, in that we founded a pediatric bone marrow transplant program which is the first of its kind in Connecticut. Prior to that any child needing a bone transplant would need to go either to Boston or New York.

And now, what I think would probably most interest people in the Bay Area is that we've begun assembling a committee to accept grant proposals that can be submitted to any worthwhile individual or institution around the country - and we're particularly looking to impact the Bay Area. And these grant proposals can be awarded for projects including quality of care - maybe something as simple as a few thousand dollars to help build a playroom in a Children's Hospital - up to a grant for an oncology fellow looking to fund a project. So that's something we're really proud of, and grants will be going out probably this winter.

On a personal level, the reason I'm so attached to pediatric cancer is because my sister was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she was 13 (I was 11 at the time), and she's since gone on to recover fully. But I line I use pretty often is that so many charities are borne out of tragedy, I feel like not enough perspective, or focus, goes to the success stories, and I think those are kind of the real examples of how necessary funding, and awareness, and support are for causes.

Nico: Well also, you're in a somewhat unique position, having some stature and being in the public eye, and I'm thinking two years ago, four years ago, six years ago, as you were getting into baseball, it was obviously unclear at what level you would end up and how much opportunity you would have. And so I'm just curious, going back a few years was this always in your mind, "If I make it, I will do..." or was it really organic, or how did it evolve?

Breslow: Right, so there was always some kind of...presence within me that I needed to do something. I had a great education, I had a pretty good understanding of science, at least understood the importance of science, the importance of the research and funding and grants and those sorts of things having spent time a lot of time in labs at Yale. And so I wouldn't have necessarily been able to say 10 years ago that I was going to start a charity that was going to benefit pediatric cancer research, but I could have told you that in some capacity I would try to help children in our community, whether that was visiting hospitals, holding fundraisers or just kind of lending my name or support to other causes.

As the thing began to take shape I began to realize how close I was to the cause and also how important it was to me to kind of have direct control over our fundraising, our guests, our donors, particularly kind of where our funding went. So I guess that's how it evolved, from this feeling that I wanted to give back to, "OK, I want to start a charity, this is where I want to the money to go, this is how we're going to organize it, this is how we're going to run things."

Nico: Have you gotten to a point now where you know, really specifically, what you plan to do when your baseball career is over, in terms of your science background and in terms of a "next career"?

Breslow: No, if anything it's probably become more blurry. I felt like, when I started playing professional baseball, 8 years ago I was a Senior draft pick out of Yale, I figured this was something I would allow to run its course over the next 2-3 years and probably end up in med school classes by the time I was 23 or 24. Obviously that hasn't happened and now having had some success in baseball, but also remaining connected to the medical field, I feel like I'm getting the best of both worlds. I'm trying to utilize my talents as best I can and I feel like this a pretty good way of doing so.

Nico: Yeah, my understanding - but correct me if I'm wrong - is that you've been committed to pursuing science, in some way, predating baseball success ("Correct"), but now there are so many different specific or general ways to be involved with science, research, cancer in particular, disease - do you have any leanings at this point? Is that becoming any clearer, or is it just becoming less clear because you're focusing on striking out Josh Hamilton?

Breslow: I feel like it's becoming less clear. I don't feel any less strongly about medicine, I don't feel any less strongly about baseball, and for the time being I've been able to marry the two and I hope (suddenly appears to chuckle at using the word "marry") I can continue to do that some way going forward.

Nico: What about the event coming up on Wednesday (August 4th). If a fan attends that, as I'm going to, what can we expect as far as that night?

Breslow: It's going to be a great night. The event will be held at Anchor Steam Brewery, so {chuckle} on the most simple level it's a great brewery with great beer and unlimited beer tasting and a tour of the brewery which is not open to the public, so it's kind of a neat privilege.

Beyond that, we've got Jeff Ma coming in who's the real life basis for the main characters in the book Bringing Down The House and the movie 21, about the MIT Blackjack teams that were made famous...And I actually met Jeff through a mutual friend who recommended that he speak at our first fundraiser in Connecticut (winter, 2008), and Jeff was unbelievable - I can definitely testify as to how entertaining and charismatic and enthusiastic a speaker he is. He was funny; I was kind of going out on a limb in that I wasn't very familiar with him, didn't really know the material, and I had never met him. But he showed up and he absolutely wowed the crowd, and I know he's done a bunch of speaking engagements since then, so I'm very confident that all of our audience will definitely be entertained.

He's bringing us some blackjack tables, and I think some of his former blackjack team members will be giving tutorials on card counting. And he's also got a book that just came out a few weeks ago called The House Advantage, and he'll be signing copies of the book for everyone who attends. We've got appetizers, a few silent auction items, and then a bunch of teammates will be there - I would imagine probably 10-15 teammates including, Andrew Bailey will be there, Trevor Cahill, Vin Mazzaro, Jerry Blevins, Brad Ziegler, I think Brett Anderson is planning on coming, Mark Ellis - so there should definitely be a good contingent, and then obviously the most important the money goes to a great cause.

Nico: I know Andrew Bailey's on the board of the foundation. How did that come about?

Breslow: I got to know Andrew when I came over here midway through the season last year. We became good friends and his fiancée is actually from Connecticut so he ended up living with her in Connecticut this off-season, so we were about 20 minutes apart and worked out together nearly every day.

And I think he saw how much work I was putting into this, and it started by his attending the gala with a bunch of his family - that's our signature fundraiser in Connecticut - in the off-season, and I think from there it was just something that really appealed to him. It was obviously a great cause and it was helping out a teammate and a friend. And I think most importantly, I think he understood that given his success, given his celebrity, he was in a position to make a difference, and he felt like this was something he really wanted to get involved in.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Part II...