The emotional story cancer survivor Ryan Kiggins told at the Hutch Award luncheon at Safeco Field Wednesday afternoon touched virtually everyone in attendance, including the 48th recipient of the award given annually in the memory of Seattle native Fred Hutchinson.
“I was inspired by what Ryan said about his fight against Leukemia,” Giants left-hander Barry Zito said. “The way he fought adversity should be a lesson for all of us. Sometimes when there’s adversity, instead of fighting it so hard and getting emotional about it, you can learn a lesson. There are gifts in that.”
Zito overcame his own adversity and landed an award that best exemplifies the honor, courage and dedication of Hutchinson, who played and managed in the Major Leagues. Hutchinson passed away at age 45 in 1964, three years after managing the Cincinnati Reds to the World Series championship.
Kiggins, now 34 years old and the father of two girls, had the crowd hanging on his every word as he described the ups and downs encountered during his fight against the life-threatening disease.
He is cancer-free now and credits the work of doctors at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for making this day possible.
“I feel blessed and honored to receive any kind of award,” Zito said. “To be in the lab today and to see what these people do is way beyond anything we can do in our little sports world. It is inspiring to see that first hand. I’m on board. This is a cause that I am involved in from here on out.”
After having a text-message consultation with his wife, Amber, who was unable to attend because of the flu, Zito made a financial contribution to the Hutchinson Research Center, adding to an already impressive list of charitable endeavors.
— They founded the non-profit organization called “Strikeouts For Troops”. The program receives support from more than 100 MLB players, coaches and managers, athletes from other sports, corporate sponsorships and the public, to provide comforts of home to injured troops.
The foundation also works to lift the morale and spirits of wounded U.S. troops and their families undergoing treatment at military hospitals nationwide.
— The Zito’s also support the St. Anthony Foundation, which provides thousands of meals every day to San Francisco’s hungry and homeless.
— Support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Special Olympics, Make-A-Wish Foundation, global illiteracy, organ donation and cancer research.
When time allows, Zito plays baseball for the World Series champion Giants.
Zito, who lost his mom to cancer – a tumor behind an eye – in 2008, battled back from his own physical adversity in 2011. A foot and ankle injury cost him most of the season. But he bounced back last season, posting a 15-8 regular-season record and was 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA in three post-season starts.
The most remarkable of those wins came in Game 1 of the World Series, when he outpitched Tigers’ ace right-hander Justin Verlander, who would be voted as the American League’s Cy Young Award winner.
“I don’t know what the (betting) line was against us in the game,” he said, “but the cards were stacked against us. I decided to go out there and give everything I had. I was not going to be sitting at home during the off-season wondering ‘what if.’ It was about going out and doing my best and the blessings came through in droves. This (Hutch Award) is the cap of it all.”
Zito, who was drafted by the Mariners out of high school in the 59th round and decided to attend college, said he is “humbled” by the Hutch Award and proud to be a class of previous winners that reads like an All-Star lineup.
“It is such a huge honor to be on the list of winners,” he said. “I looked on the back of the program and saw those names.”
Mickey Mantle (1965), Sandy Koufax (’66), Carl Yastrzemski (’67), Al Kaline (’68), Willie McCovey (’77), Willie Stargell (’78), George Brett (’80), Johnny Bench (’81), Paul Molitor (’87), Andre Dawson (’94) and Eric Davis (’97) are among previous winners.
“Some of them are in attendance today.”
That list included Jamie Moyer (2003), John Olerud (1993), and Dave Dravecky (’89).
Zito was presented the Hutch Award, a blue and yellow glass-art created by Seattle’s own Dale Chihuly.
“The is going to be front and center in my home for many, many years,” Zito said.