Baseball legends, SU2C visit children's hospital
Bay Area greats Perry, Blue highlight group of well-wishers
SAN FRANCISCO -- Five years ago, Gaylord Perry lost his son to cancer.
"I know what these kids and parents are going through," the 72-year-old Hall of Famer said.
This was an important story to tell on the first day of the 106th World Series, as important as how each inning went during the night. Perry and fellow Bay Area pitching legend Vida Blue, along with Stand Up To Cancer co-founders, Major League Baseball executives and Giants mascot Lou Seal, visited Wednesday morning with kids at the UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.
MLB highlighted Stand Up To Cancer as its dedicated initiative surrounding Game 1, part of a campaign over the first four games to bring attention to important causes. Game 2 will be Public Service and the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet. Game 3 will be about Youth, highlighting Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) presented by KPMG and Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Game 4 will salute and help Welcome Back Veterans.
"I just want to thank baseball for doing this," Perry said after coming out of the bone marrow transplant treatment area. He, Blue, Lou Seal and SU2C founders had just given the young patient Giants and MLB merchandise -- anything to bring the Fall Classic feeling to an unimaginably tough situation.
"What's most important is to let our young kids know that we're pulling for them and hope to see them back on the street soon and doing well. It's been outstanding. They've been very happy. Great smiles, they give you a high five when you go out. It kind of brings us back to life a little bit, too."
Perry won 314 games in a Cooperstown career, the first 10 seasons with the San Francisco Giants. He never played in the World Series over 22 years, but here he was on the first day that the event came to San Francisco, and it was, in proper perspective, about as big a World Series role as one could play. Someone will win and lose the World Series. Someone will beat or succumb to cancer.
It was emotional to walk through the hospital with the MLB group. Roxanne Fernandes, executive director of the facility, watched as they washed their hands and went in to meet with kids and their families, and the expression on her face said it all. Joy is so rare -- for patients, for families, for the staff. They have lost 34 children to cancer at this hospital in 2010. It is not a fair life if the number is one, and that is why SU2C and MLB are reaching out to citizens everywhere to help.
"UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital sees kids who come from all over the state of California, from the Western United States. Some of them come here for very rare cancers. So it's important that we're a place of discovery," Fernandes said. "Because we see such sick kids, it is also often difficult for the staff. We have developed lots of important initiatives this year to keep them. This year, we've lost over 30 children in this unit. For this staff and these families, it is incredibly difficult. A day like this, when Major League Baseball and the Giants and two Hall of Fame players take time to come here and spend time with these kids, it means so much to these kids, our staff and physicians. We literally can't thank them enough for bringing the spirit of the World Series to the unit."
Later Wednesday, MLB put Stand Up To Cancer back into the forefront of consciousness, through a Jake Gyllenhaal public service announcement that followed a memorable performance of "God Bless America" by Tony Bennett. The crowd all stood, and stayed standing to sing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game."
and a prompt by FOX broadcaster Joe Buck for everyone to stand up. It was just last month, Sept. 10, that SU2C's telethon throughout TV land raised major funds, bringing its total to nearly $100 million, with proceeds going to its "dream team" scientists for breakthrough research help. MLB is a founding sponsor of SU2C, with a total of $30 million committed and this remarkable prominence given the platform of its jewel event.
"We're always optimistic here," Fernandes said. "I think the new research looking at genetic typing of tumors and cancers, pairing that with chemotherapy and other therapies to ensure the best outcomes, is exciting. That's just in its infancy. I think that in a few years, we will have come light years actually with this. It's those types of discoveries that keep us going here. However, it seems that no matter how much better we get at treating cancer, there seem to be more cancers. I don't know if we're better at detecting them, but we sort of are not ever catching up.
"I've talked to parents who have had successful cancer treatments, and what they'll tell me is that everything they've heard, from the moment a physician said, 'Your child has cancer,' up to about three to four days later, they almost have no recollection of what people told them during that time. It is so stressful."
At one point the legends and Lou Seal walked into the bone marrow transplant treatment area and were told that extra precaution would be required, including extensive hand-washing. One of the staffers injected levity by looking at the furry mascot and saying, "We can dry you for a half-hour." The mascot went into rooms with surgical gloves on as required. Jacqueline Parkes, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for MLB, was watching all this and said she hoped everyone could see how important this is in the big picture.
"Commissioner Selig always says that baseball is a social institution, so the recognition he has given to have each one of the first four games of the World Series dedicated after charities really showcases that," she said. "Game 1 Stand Up To Cancer, Commissioner Selig has taken a pledge, and all of us in baseball -- MLB.com, MLBNetwork, the players and our fans -- to help stand up to cancer. So as we start our World Series, we are grounded knowing that there are a lot of All-Stars that are not just on the field, they are in the hospital, in the patients' rooms. So it's really a special night for Major League Baseball and Stand Up To Cancer. Being in a hospital with these kids and their families grounds us that there is so much more work to do. It's such a privilege to get to meet them, and I hope they know we are going to continue to root for them and follow up with them. It's just an honor to be able to bring a little happiness into their day."
Mignon Loh, associate professor of clinical pediatics at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, said this brings real results. She faces reality every day -- and lately with promising results.
"On a local level it's been tremendous to see the support that MLB and the Giants have provided to our young patients who are undergoing very intensive therapies for cancer," Loh said. "They're stuck in the hospital, they feel crappy, and to have a little glimmer of just the excitement that has pervaded the city over the Giants getting to the World Series is wonderful. And beyond that, the fundraising efforts for the team that underscores Stand Up To Cancer is just incredible for all of us who do pediatric oncology research. Federal funds are hard to come by. Our economy is in trouble. One of the first places that people really question our resources in science and technology. That's certainly happened to people who need to apply for grants for their research. Having foundations like Stand Up To Cancer, who are committed to raising money to fund excellent collaborative work in any form of cancer, is invaluable to us as researchers. We really appreciate all their efforts."
What progress are we seeing?
"I do a lot of research in childhood leukemias," she said. "I would say that over the last 30 to 40 years we have made tremendous improvements in cure rates for children with leukemia. Going from incurable diseases to now confidently saying to many patients that 80 to 85 percent of the time, 'We are going to be able to cure you of your cancer.' But 85 percent of the time is not 100 percent of the time. So we are continuing to do work in identifying new genetic lesions in leukemias, new signaling networks that are abnormally active in these leukemias, and trying to find specific medicines that will attack those signaling networks and make it possible to treat leukemias perhaps with fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy, and raise that 85 percent to 100 percent."
Her message to viewers of Game 1 on FOX and readers here: "Any little bit counts. Any little bit makes up a huge contribution to fighting cancer, whether it is in adults or children."
Rusty Robertson, co-founder of SU2C, repeated the same message as she walked into individual rooms. "YOU are the heroes," she would tell them.
"For Stand Up To Cancer, it really brings it to a wonderful reality," Robertson told MLB.com. "We work day and night trying to look for the greatest therapies, raising money, and I can tell you that if it wasn't for Commissioner Selig and his wife, Sue -- which we call the Nudge Around The World when she said, 'What are you waiting for, Buddy?' -- we wouldn't be here today. When I come here, it makes it so poignant. It gives me the ability to realize why we don't sleep, and why we continue our mission. Because we truly are moving the needle in this horrible disease and we will find therapies in our lifetime and make cancer no more.
"These patients are the heroes. And their parents are the heroes. And the nurses are the heroes. So it gives us an opportunity to realize, we're all in this together. Stand Up To Cancer is all about collaboration. It's not just the scientists collaborating for new therapies. It's the scientists, it's the teams, it's the people, it's the moms and the dads and the doctors and the nurses. That is the collaboration that is making the biggest difference."
Robertson was going to Game 1 with an especially heavy heart, because one of her best friends, "Spider-Man" movie producer and SU2C co-founder Laura Ziskin, just received chemotherapy the night before and is waging the good fight here now. If you'll remember, Ziskin is the one who choreographed the live MasterCard "Priceless" TV spot during Game 4 of the last World Series at Philadelphia.
"When you are diagnosed with cancer, and I've lost so many of my family members and friends, you certainly don't want to start a movement," Robertson said. "You kind of want to pull the sheets over your head. But don't. Because you need to continue to have hope, and sometimes you don't want to have false hopelessness. I will tell you that we are in an era today, when not only is it science, but it's technology, it's molecular biology, and now we are bringing everybody together to these people, and we are telling them that for the first time in history, people are talking to each other, and things are happening in light speed. So stay with it. Stay with it.
"And of course, learn as much as you can. On our side as StandUpToCancer.org, it's not just about us and our scientists, it's about all the advocacy groups, all of the different types of cancers. Not only do we want to help people and give them strength and make them laugh. Our television show has music and entertainers. This is a time of celebration. For everyone who has been touched by cancer, I want them to realize that there is hope and there are answers and they are happening as we are doing this interview."
On Tuesday, Rangers and Giants players signed The Wall -- a big board for Stand Up To Cancer, allowing players to to leave their names and any dedications of their own. Each club signed it as they walked into the media day sessions. It will help raise SU2C funding in the future.
"I've got a good friend who has cancer of the blood, and I will help however much I can do to show support," Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval said. "It's exciting to know that MLB does those things to help others. We need to give support to make good things happen."