By Shannon Drayer
Photo courtesy of Phototainment
The Hutch Award was presented to Giants pitcher Barry Zito Wednesday at a luncheon on the field at Safeco Field that was attended by over 1,000 fans and supporters. The award is given annually to "the MLB player who best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire of the legendary leader, Fred Hutchinson."
This is not an award where the winner just shows up to accept the hardware, which in this case is actually fine Chihuly glassware or more specifically, art. The winner and the keynote speaker, who this year was Lou Piniella, are actually taken for visits to both the Hutch School, which is a school for family members of patients at FHCRC, and to a research lab. Both visits tend to have a profound effect on the winners.
On Wednesday morning Zito and Piniella visited the laboratories of Dr. Beverly Torok Storb of the clinical research division. The two donned white lab coats and were given the opportunity to try their hand at pipetting in a stem cell lab. They were also shown a flow cytometer and a $700,000 electron microscope.
They were most impressed by the story Dr. Storb told of some of the cells in her lab which were found by chance to have the ability to help prevent and reverse organ transplant rejection and to cure fibrotic lungs in animal test subjects. There is hope that the same cells will be able to regenerate kidney cells as well.
"In other words, you may save our lives one day," Zito said, shaking his head after the presentation.
What shocked Zito was finding out that unlike baseball, the best of the best in the research field do not have guaranteed jobs. Much of the work at FHCRC is government-funded and researchers must come up with their own grants. Dr. Storb explained to her visitors that even the most famous, senior researchers have little job stability.
"You are only as good as your last piece of work. If don't get your grant, you are gone," she said.
Money doesn't grow on trees even for the most brilliant minds looking to find cures for the most hideous diseases. That is why the fund raising efforts are so important and apparently Zito took that to heart.
When he stepped to podium to accept his award he took a single sheet of paper no doubt with a speech or talking points written on it. He didn't look down at it, however, during his speech. His words seemed to come from the top of his head, and bottom of his heart.
"This is kind of the cap of it all after the great offseason," he said. "It is just so humbling."
He then told the crowd that he lost his mother to cancer in 2008. If there was a script, he was clearly off it at that point.
"To have that experience of seeing her fight and then to take the tour today, it was just so impactful to actually be shaking hands with these people who are coming up with cures," he said. "It's just surreal. To be in the lab where these cures are devised, it is just something that is so beyond anything we could ever do in our little sports world. It's been so inspiring to see it first hand. I'm on board.
"This is a cause I am involved in from here on out."
On board to help raise awareness and donate, he said, after checking with his wife, who was unable to make the trip.
It was gratifying to see, start to finish. Every year the winner flies out to Seattle, most not completely understanding what the award is all about. They are impressed when they hear the names who have won the award in the past: Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Willie McCovey, Johnny Bench, the list goes on and on. When they make the school and lab visits, however, sometimes you start to see the wheels turning. The hope is they go on to inspire others in the game to give back and do good as well.
In the meantime, the work goes on at FHCRC.