Gail Paluka was gone before the first pitch was ever thrown. Cancer, a disease she and her family thought she had beat, took her before she could see the great things her son, Alex, had on the horizon. No, she never saw the first pitch, but she knew the score – even if many of us still don’t know it. Cancer is losing. It may have beat her, but with the efforts of her family, her son specifically, and a nation’s call to arms, Gail can rest easy knowing people are working to make a difference. Working to make sure a mother is never ripped away again before seeing the first pitch.
Alex Paluka founded The Cure Baseball in September 2011, almost ten years after his mother passed away from breast cancer in 2001. Baseball was always in his blood, but after his mother died, Alex used the game to cope.
“The game never told me to be sad, to stop being sad, to move on, to remember the good times. It simply just continued being the beautiful game that it always had been,” remembered Alex.
Baseball has always meant so much to so many different people in times of crisis. During war, this country often turned to its pastime for comfort. During times of unthinkable tragedy, the game offered a welcome relief. And on an individual level, baseball allows those whose families are ravaged by a disease with no cure to find comfort. The simple sound of a ball hitting a leather glove or an emphatic strike call by an umpire can wash away the pain.
Alex knew from the time of his mother’s passing – when he was just 14 years old – the importance of baseball in society. He just didn’t know how big a role he would play alongside baseball in the future. ”Baseball plays a huge role in today’s society. When I think of the impact of baseball in the culture we live in today I am reminded of the Mets game that was played as the first sporting event in New York City post 9/11.”
Post-9/11 baseball is the most readily available example of the healing properties a simple game can have.
“I remember watching that game in my living room in Wisconsin; my mom was sick and dying, cancer had filled her body and the simplest of task were monumental for her to complete. I remember mom saying that it’s interruptions [that bring] pure happiness that (like this Mets game) allow for people facing horrible situations to simply smile and forget for a period of time.
Baseball has been that game for so many people. Baseball has been that interruption in which allows us to forget life’s problems and lets us be happy.”
Three months after talking with his mom about baseball’s role in society and in their own life, Gail was gone. But the foundation had been laid for Alex. Baseball could change a life.
As Alex chased a dream of playing baseball professionally, he found himself in Upstate New York playing for the Utica Brewers, a summer team part of the then-Eastern Collegiate Baseball League. His dreams of a professional career had not yet panned out, but he first got a taste for giving back while playing for the Brewers.
“I was playing for the Utica Brewers in upstate New York. I had been in Utica for about 2 weeks when I got this urge to give back to the community which welcomed us into it for the summer.” The opportunity would soon present itself.
Alex heard about two local mothers who were both battling breast cancer. ”I met with our general manager and came up with the idea to do a benefit game that would raise money. During the days I would work at my summer landscaping job, then before games I would go around to neighborhoods, local businesses and other organizations and sell tickets to the game, ask for donations and try to raise as much money for these families as I could.”
His first taste of giving back was a success. ”We held that actual game and ended up raised about $3,500.00 for each family. The day, the game and the event left a feeling inside me that would be simply leave a mark on my life for the rest of my days. I knew this was the start of something special. This was the beginning of The Cure Baseball.”
The wheels were in motion, but Alex still had to get his idea off the ground. How could baseball influence cancer research. How could a game change people’s lives? He already had seen it happen – in his own living room and in the community of Utica, New York. Now, he had to apply the concept in a wider reach. If baseball could help two mothers through a summer game, it could help so many more. That much was clear.
“Researching the nonprofit world and developing a business plan took 14 months. The Cure Baseball was introduced to the public in late September of 2011. But why I started The Cure Baseball isn’t because I want to hold onto something that was lost, but rather to use baseball to give back to people who may never think that a game could help them heal.”
Alex’s plan began to take shape. He had experienced the joy of helping people in need while playing on a summer college league team. He applied that same concept when developing The Cure Baseball’s model. A traveling team made up of college players would play nothing but exhibition benefit games. The games would raise money for cancer research. People are generally good and want to help. They just don’t often have an easy outlet to do so. Paying to watch a baseball game could be that outlet for so many people.
“The goal is to use baseball to show people who are suffering [through] cancer that there is a team out there fighting for them on and off the field. Starting next summer we will field a collegiate summer team which will travel to different collegiate summer leagues and teams, playing games that raise support and awareness for all types of cancer.,” Alex explained.
The Cure Baseball isn’t just about playing games. They are about raising awareness and raising money. Alex hopes to get the donation side of things moving with runs, events, and online donations. ”We’ve had 5K run/walks, we’re currently running a campaign called The Intentional Walks Campaign where people pledge any amount of dollars or cents for each intentional walk issued in major league baseball. (www.intentionalwalks.com)”
Last season, there were 1,231 intentional walks issued. ”If 500 people pledged five cents per intentional walk last season we would have raised $30,775.00 and each individual donation would have been $61.55.”
When the games do get underway next summer, Alex has a plan in place for spreading the donation money. He will make sure a person from the community who has been affected by cancer receives an unrestricted donation. He will also make sure some of the larger donations go to cancer research centers affiliated with the schools in which players on the team attend.
“Stemming from all these efforts, more and more research is able to be funded and executed, and that is where the cure for this horrible disease is going to be found,” said with the type of confidence that makes it hard to disagree with him. ”People are dedicating their lives to save others, these are the true heroes. Although we never meet these researchers, we must acknowledge their efforts.”
And it all starts with a plan. The Cure Baseball has a plan to continue growing, not in size, but in donations. The more awareness the organization is able to spread through the joy of baseball, the bigger influence they will have on the horrors of cancer. A simple game can have such a profound impact in the world.
“As we continue to grow and gain supporters and followers our team will only get stronger, and our ability to change lives affected by cancer will grow astronomically. I want to be able to give more grants to more researchers each year we’re around,” Alex said.
There is never a shortage of researchers willing to search for a cure for cancer. However, there are always monetary limitations. For example, the National Cancer Institute spent $631.2 million on breast cancer research in 2010. It wasn’t enough, but the scientific community is making progress, and they need continued donations.
Alex understands the incredible amount of money it takes to fund the research necessary to one day eradicate all cancers. ”I want to increase our personal donations every season we play. I want our team to be able to draw the biggest crowds for the teams we visit in order to reach the highest number of people, and all this is made possible by a game, the game that so many of us grew up watching, playing and dreaming about.”
From the dirt fields of the local parks to the Major League stadiums with all their glitz and glory, baseball is the same game. But The Cure Baseball makes it more. The Cure Baseball is taking our National Pastime and applying it to our nation’s most devastating disease.
If you’d like to get involved, be sure to check them out online, on Facebook, and on Twitter @thecurebaseball. More importantly, donate to cancer research, support the Intentional Walks program, and come out and see some baseball next summer.