Ozzie Smith used to do things that no one else could do. A backflip on his way out to shortstop, a diving play up the middle, reaching up with his glove at the last minute to snag a high hop. He racked up 13 Gold Glove Awards and a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and along the way people just stopped and stared.
Now the Wizard of Oz is 51, a full decade removed from the Cardinals'' lineup, and his mission is to show men everywhere that they can do the same thing as he.
That includes being tested for prostate cancer and pledging in the Prostate Cancer Foundation''s Home Run Challenge. That drive is now under way through Father''s Day as part of an initiative by Major League Baseball, Gillette and that foundation to help everyone understand the risk and to help beat a disease that will be diagnosed in someone while you are reading this.
"We''re just trying to make sure that people are aware of how important it is to get the message out and have guys talk about it, because as men, sometimes we''re reluctant to talk about health issues," said Smith, who is back in his frequent role as a spokesman for this annual effort around Major League Baseball. "As an African-American man, I am 60 percent more likely to get prostate cancer. We want to eradicate it and get the word out there. We want people to realize it''s not as painful as they might think it is to have the test done, and to talk to their doctor about it."
"We''re trying to get more people to do that. Sometimes it''s just through conversation that spurs it on. For most of us, I think it''s our spouses who really are the ones who push you to go and get this. For those of us who are divorced or whatever, it''s important to talk to friends. I play a lot of golf, and the guys I play golf with talk about this all the time and how important it is to be tested."
Smith once said: "Giving back is the ultimate talent in life. That is the greatest trophy on my mantel." This is another example, and his hope is that others will share in this way. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed non-skin cancer in America, having struck 232,000 men in 2005. The number of new diagnosed cases is expected to surge dramatically as the baby boomers age, escalating to more than 300,000 each year by 2015, a 50 percent increase. A man''s odds of being diagnosed with prostate cancer are one in six, only twice as long as a good batter hitting safely.
"People are starting to age," Smith said. "Being part of the baby boomers, this falls right into our lap. It''s important to at least make an effort to make people more aware of how important it is to get checked. When we talk to them when they''re 40 to 45, by the time they get to 50, they''ll be ready to take the plunge to get things done."
Father''s Day is June 18, and Major League Baseball, Gillette and the Prostate Cancer Foundation are reaching out to millions who can help get things done now. Here are some of the highlights:
• There are 60 selected games for the Home Run Challenge, and the total number of homers in those games multiplied by the total pledges will result in an amount given to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. It is similar to the Strikeout Challenge that Major League Baseball conducted last month to drive pledges to help fight breast cancer.
The Home Run Challenge is a partnership between Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association and the Prostate Cancer Foundation, and it''s supported by all 30 clubs and the players. Each stadium will participate in the events. It is the 10th year that the Home Run Challenge has been used to raise money toward the search for a cure for prostate cancer.
• At each home game on Father''s Day, players, managers, coaches, trainers, umpires and groundskeepers will promote awareness and show their support for the cause by wearing blue wristbands, blue ribbon uniform decals, blue eye glare and temporary blue ribbon tattoos. The color blue has come to symbolize prostate cancer awareness.
• The special MLB Father''s Day logo will be highlighted on the bases, lineup cards and a ceremonial home plate.
• This is the first year Major League Baseball is teaming up with Gillette to increase awareness and early detection of prostate cancer. The goal is to challenge men to know their risks, talk to their doctors and tell their friends about prostate cancer.
• Major League Baseball will provide fans at each home park with an informational card promoting prostate cancer awareness.
The prostate cancer initiative is one of several health initiatives supported by Major League Baseball. Fans at MLB.com are still bidding on the pink bats and other items being auctioned from the Mother''s Day event, with those proceeds going to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Other initiatives include "The Commissioner''s Initiative for Kids" in support of childhood cancer research, and "Play Smart When it Comes to the Sun" -- a league-wide, season-long skin cancer awareness program in partnership with the Players Association and the American Academy of Dermatology.
"Major League Baseball has selected Father''s Day as a time to both honor and remember those whose lives have been affected by prostate cancer," said Tim Brosnan, Major League Baseball''s executive vice president of business. "We are proud to continue our support of the ''Home Run Challenge,'' which this year combines the efforts of MLB, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, Gillette and fans across the country to increase awareness and raise funds fight this disease."
For more information, visit gillettepcc.org.
Tune in weekly every Sunday at 2:00 p.m. on Talk Radio 950 KPRC for more health and wellness information on Your Health First.