Thinking Man's Game
Monday, March 08, 2010
Courtesy of New England Baseball Journal
Story by Douglas Flynn
Photo credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
The Wall Street Journal once labeled him "the smartest man in baseball, if not the entire world," and the presence of a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University would appear to support the claim.
Craig Breslow chuckles at the moniker that has stuck with him through eight seasons of professional baseball. But the Trumbull, Conn., native certainly was smart enough to realize his future on the diamond was in serious question when the Milwaukee Brewers, who had picked him in the 26th round of the 2002 draft, unceremoniously released him two years later during the 2004 season.
"When you're released as a 23-year-old after being a 26th-round draft pick, you'd have to be pretty foolish if you didn't have some serious doubts [about making it]," Breslow said. "I was really close to giving up on baseball. I felt like toiling in the minors for years when I had this great educational background wouldn't have made much sense."
For once, Breslow went with his heart instead of his brain. Rather than returning to school to pursue the medical degree that always has been his goal, Breslow gave baseball one more shot. He hooked on with the New Jersey Jackals in the independent Northeast League for the rest of 2004, then was signed by San Diego out of a tryout camp the following year.
His major league debut came with the Padres on July 23, 2005, and while there's been some more bumps along the way as he was non-tendered by San Diego and waived by three other teams, he enters the 2010 season having established himself as one of the top left-handed relievers in the majors.
"Going into this year, hopefully I have established a role for myself now," Breslow, now 29, said. "I'll never be complacent, but I think I've proven myself a bit now."
Breslow had some success in his various stops. He had a 3.75 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 12 innings with the Red Sox in 2006 and a 1.91 ERA in 47 innings split between Cleveland and Minnesota in 2008. But it wasn't until he was claimed off waivers by Oakland on May 20, 2009, that everything really came together for him.
Breslow finished the year second in the American League in appearances with 77, including 60 with the A's. He went 7-5 in Oakland with a 2.60 ERA and 44 K's against just 18 walks in 55 1/3 innings. Long considered a lefty specialist, Breslow finally was given a chance to get hitters from both sides of the plate out, and actually had more success against righties (.191 opponents' average) than lefties (.204) last year.
"I like to think I can do more than just get lefties out," Breslow said. "I think if you look at my splits I've had pretty similar numbers against righties as I have against lefties."
The A's certainly are glad Breslow put off med school and stuck with baseball. So are a lot of people away from the diamond.
As much as he has contributed on the field, Breslow has proven even more valuable off it with his tireless charity work for pediatric cancer research and treatment. Breslow has a very personal reason for such efforts, as his older sister Lesley was diagnosed with pediatric thyroid cancer when she was 13 and Breslow was 11. Lesley Breslow has been in remission for over 15 years, but that harrowing experience was enough to make Breslow want to do everything in his power to prevent any other families from going through the same ordeal.
"That had a dramatic impact on my life," Breslow said. "A couple of years ago, I was playing for the Red Sox at the time, and I felt it was as good a time as ever to do something."
For many players, "doing something" would mean donating some money and maybe making a few appearances to raise more funds. That wasn’t enough for Breslow, who instead chose to launch his own organization, The Strike 3 Foundation (www.strike3foundation.org).
The continued and complete story about Breslow can be found in the New England Baseball Journal.