From Randy Johnson’s 1990 no-hitter to Felix Hernandez’s perfect game in 2012, baseball-loving crowds in Seattle have been treated to impressive feats on the mound by some of the game’s finest pitchers.
With two Gold Gloves and a stratospheric strikeout tally, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright certainly stands among the great hurlers to have stepped on the field at the Mariners’ home ballpark.
On Wednesday, a crowd at Safeco Field cheered not for Wainwright’s wicked cutter but for his activities off the field to help others. “Waino,” as he’s known in baseball, was honored with the 51st annual Hutch Award at the Hutch Award Luncheon, an annual event that raises money for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The 2016 luncheon raised gross proceeds of more than $545,000 for the center.
“This means so much more to me than any achievement on the field could possibly mean to me,” said Wainwright upon receiving the award.
Wainwright’s charitable activities both at home and abroad include installing sanitation systems to prevent waterborne illnesses, building orphanages and providing meals.
“I have been tremendously blessed with talent and fortune, and what an incredible waste of a life it would be if I didn’t give back,” he said.
The first-ever honorary Hutch Award was also bestowed on former President and Nobel Prize winner Jimmy Carter, whose grandson, former Georgia state senator Jason Carter, accepted the award Wednesday on his behalf.
“’It means a great deal to me to be recognized by such an important and well-respected organization as Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center,” said Jimmy Carter, 91, in a letter read by his grandson.
In his letter, the elder Carter extended his thanks to Fred Hutch scientists who have helped to bring lifesaving, new cancer drugs to market. Carter is undergoing treatment for metastatic melanoma via a new drug that allows his immune system to fight his cancer. During his treatment, the statesman has continued his busy schedule — traveling, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, and teaching Sunday school at his church — “with a grace that I can only imagine,” Jason Carter said
“The example that he provides today, building on the research being done at this place, means that [his diagnosis] is not a death sentence,” Jason Carter said. “He won’t die of melanoma.”
Carter’s cancer story “is emblematic of his courage but also the tremendous opportunity we have here at the Hutch,” said Fred Hutch President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland. “It stunned the world but it didn’t surprise us here at the Hutch — it’s what we’ve been working on for 40 years.”
Safeco Field is a fitting place to pay tribute to Carter, Wainwright and the previous Hutch Award honorees: The end seats of every aisle in the stadium bear a relief portrait of Fred Hutchinson, standout pitcher for the Seattle Rainiers and Detroit Tigers and the namesake of both the award and the Seattle-based cancer center.
In addition to his pitching chops, “Hutch” was a skilled manager who would take the helm of three Major League Baseball clubs, including the Cardinals, the team that Wainwright would join almost 50 years later.
Just two years after Hutchinson piloted his Cincinnati Reds to the World Series in 1961, he found lumps in his upper torso and neck. It was lung cancer. Hutch’s dedication to his sport helped keep him in the dugout for as long as possible during his cancer treatment. Despite the best efforts of the manager’s brother — physician and cancer researcher Dr. Bill Hutchinson of Seattle — Fred Hutchinson died in 1964 at age 45.
The year after his death, a group of sportswriters established the Hutch Award to honor the Major League Baseball player who most embodies Fred Hutchinson’s fighting spirit and competitive desire on and off the field. MLB teams nominate a player for the award every year, and the honoree is chosen by a vote of past winners.
Wainwright was up against stiff competition for this year’s honor: nine other standout ballplayers known for their athleticism and commitment to their communities, including the Texas Rangers’ Adrian Beltre and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen.
Several past Hutch Award honorees joined Wainwright at this year’s ceremony, including 1999 recipient Sean Casey, who played for the Reds and other teams.
“This is one of those awards where, when you’re honored to get it, you know how much it means,” Casey said.
Like the Hutch Award’s namesake, Wainwright has a strong competitive streak and a dedication to his sport that keeps him in the game. In 2011, he was sidelined by Tommy John surgery to repair an injury to his pitching arm; he came back in the 2012 season to record two shutouts. Last season, he tore an Achilles’ tendon but recovered faster than predicted and plans to play in the 2016 season.
Off the field, too, he has faced great challenges.
Moved by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Wainwright and his wife, Jenny, helped to build an orphanage and clean-water systems for survivors of the disaster that killed more than 160,000 people and displaced more than a million more. With his brother, Trey, Wainwright started a charity based on fantasy-football leagues, raising more than $1 million for a variety of projects, including water systems in Honduras, where 60 percent of the population lives in poverty.
“We can get cleaner water out of our toilet than some people [there] get to drink,” Wainwright said. His charitable efforts have already helped to nearly eliminate water-borne diseases in some villages.
“We only get one shot at [life] here in this world. If you can lay down your head on your pillow at night and know you’re making a difference, bravo,” he said. “If not — get to it.”
Guests at the luncheon were asked to stand if they, a loved one or a colleague ever had cancer. Almost all of the more than 800 attendees stood.
One of those was Wainwright, whose two grandparents both had cancer. Another was keynote speaker Carlton “Pudge” Fisk, Hall of Fame catcher for the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox, who has had cancer twice.
Fisk said he sometimes looks at all of his baseball cards spanning his two-decade career in the majors, eyeing a mole below his right eye in the photos. The spot is on his face in all of the cards but changed colors over the years, and two years ago doctors discovered it was melanoma.
Several years prior, Fisk underwent tests that revealed the presence of prostate cancer. He recalled how he wasn’t able to watch the 2005 World Series, featuring the White Sox, because he was undergoing surgery to remove his prostate. The White Sox notched the club’s first World Series title in 88 years.
“I missed it,” said the grandfather of 10. “The great part about it is that I’m not missing the rest of my life.”
During his long career, Fisk racked up some famous home runs against talented pitchers. Looking back on what he’s faced in his life so far, Fisk reflected that cancer and baseball have one theme in common: fear. In baseball, he said, the fear comes when facing a legendary pitcher like Nolan Ryan, who threw scorchers topping 100 mph and wasn’t shy about scaring batters with inside pitches.
For athletes like him, Fisk said, part of the fear of cancer comes with what it does to a body that once seemed perfectly powerful and healthy.
“It robs you of your sense of self because your sense of self is so tied up with your physical prowess,” he said.
Now, after surviving two cancers, he advises other men to face their fears, get over their “stupid, macho” attitudes and go to the doctor, he said.
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Susan Keown is a staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Before joining Fred Hutch in 2014, Susan wrote about health and research topics for a variety of research institutions, including the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @sejkeown.