There was a time not that long ago when left-hander Craig Breslow decided he'd set his sights on a career in orthopedics after finishing his fling with professional baseball. How long would that last? A year? Maybe two?
"When you're in high school and figuring what you're going to be when you grow up and you're really into sports, I think orthopedic surgery is the natural progression from being an athlete," Breslow, a 2002 Yale graduate, said.
Six Major League seasons later, he's a relief pitcher with the Athletics. And because his sister, Lesley, had cancer when she was a teenager, his vision of a medical career leads in a different direction.
"We had a pretty typical childhood up until I was 11, and Lesley was 13 when she was diagnosed," he said. "Y'know, as an 11 year old you don't understand what cancer means, aside from hearing that word and associating it with death."
Breslow earned degrees in molecular physics and biochemistry at Yale before beginning what is now almost a decade of pro ball. Thoughts of orthopedics were shelved long ago, replaced by a potential career in research or academic medicine.
He is involved in genetic research between seasons, and in 2008, he established the Strike 3 Foundation to increase awareness of and raise funds for childhood cancer research.
"A lot of the charity work I do, it's a celebration of someone who has faced cancer, battled it and come out victorious," Breslow said. "Lesley's cancer-free and has been for 18 years."
The New Haven, Conn., native is the first Yale grad to reach the Majors since Ron Darling with the Mets in 1983. There is a reason for this.
"The student-athletes that are able to get into Ivy League schools, the pool is not quite as vast as those able to get into other schools," Breslow said. "And there are Ivy League students who have other interests.
"There aren't too many guys willing to spend three, four, five years riding buses throughout rural America when they know that the alternative is medical school or law school or business school and making plenty of money immediately."
As a junior Breslow led Yale in ERA (2.61) and was third in the Ivy League. He also had a 16-strikeout game against Cornell and a one-hit shutout at Harvard. As a senior, he led the Ivies with a 2.56 ERA. He was a southpaw who could throw in the low 90s.
In 2002, Milwaukee drafted him in the 26th round -- 769th overall. There's a reason for this, too.
"There's that stigma that's attached to guys who put up good numbers in the Ivy League," Breslow said. "How would that translate if you're playing schools with big baseball programs?"
Breslow rode those buses throughout rural America for three years, never got beyond Class A and was released by the Brewers in 2004. The next spring, he signed with San Diego, sailed through Double-A and Triple-A and debuted with the Padres that July 23.
"Every kid that sets foot on a field in Little League thinks about playing Major League baseball," Breslow said. "For me it didn't become a realistic option until I got called up to Double-A. Even then it still seemed like the big leagues were so far away."
After the 2005 season, he became a free agent again and signed with the Red Sox, spent most of 2006 and all of 2007 pitching for their Triple-A Pawtucket team and split 2008 between the Indians and Twins. On May 29, 2009, Minnesota waived Breslow, and the Athletics signed him.
Oh, and he has a World Series ring, compliments of the 2007 champion Red Sox.
"They decided that everyone on the active roster that year was going to get a ring," Breslow said. "I spent one day on the roster. Called up on Sept. 1, sent back to Pawtucket Sept. 2. Not too many people get a September call-down, but I managed to do it."
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.