Craig Breslow, 33, is one of the few pitchers who is a legitimate threat every year to have an ERA lower than his IQ. The Red Sox reliever and Yale graduate has thrived out of the bullpen, posting one of his best seasons last year in Boston’s run to a World Series championship. A Connecticut native, Breslow started the Strike 3 Foundation, which provides money for pediatric cancer research and will hold Sip Happens May 19 at the Boston Children’s Museum. The Improper Bostonian is one sponsor of the food and wine tasting, which still has tickets available. Breslow talked with The Improper about “smart guy” labels, studying for the MCATs and his connection to pediatric cancer.
Matt Martinelli: You’ve had a bit of job security the past few years, which is hard to come by as a reliever. How does that compare to when you first started out?
Craig Breslow: Last year was the first year I had a multi-year deal. Knowing where you’ll be more than one year in advance is the biggest thing for me. The commitment they made to me. It was a great thing for me, especially it being so close to my home.
Did the proximity to home make it easier to re-sign here?
It’s obviously nice to pay closer to home. Your family and friends have an opportunity to see more games, but the biggest factor to me re-signing was the two-year commitment, along with the chance to win. The Red Sox ownership is going to put together the best team they can possibly field. At the trade deadline last year, they saw an opportunity to secure an upper-tier starting pitcher in Jake Peavy, and there was no hesitation to go out and get him. The confidence in knowing that year in, year out, they’re committed and they’re going to make an effort to win the World Series is the most attractive thing about it.
You’ve gotten a lot of accolades for being the smartest guy in baseball. Do teammates try to stump you?
I wouldn’t say stump so much as if there’s a question, it invariably filters back to me, even if it’s a topic of which I have no idea.
You played for Billy Beane—would you say you’re smarter than him?
Until my playing days are over, or until my baseball career is over, even sometime after playing, I don’t think I’ll answer that. Billy is a very, very sharp guy. I learned a lot while playing for him. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the job he’s able to do, even with limited resources. I don’t believe that the adulation and admiration that he garners is unfounded.
Does the “smart guy” tag get annoying at all? Does it make people overlook your talent?
It never gets annoying. Ultimately, being called smart is a compliment, and being complimented that much is never an insult, especially when you consider how quickly celebrities and professional athletes get criticized. But certainly, I feel like there are times when my accomplishments on the field have warranted more attention than they’ve gotten. So, I’ve kind of made a commitment to my teammates when I step in the clubhouse that I’m going to be the best baseball player I can be. I think as my career has unfolded, there’s really been a shift from: Here’s a really smart guy who plays baseball to here’s a guy who plays baseball.
What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever done?
Was it pitching in the World Series?
The World Series was very difficult, and it was an incredible experience. I don’t think I would call that the most difficult thing I’ve ever done because it was doing the same thing that I was doing when I was 10 years old and playing Little League baseball. The only thing that was different was the number of people watching. Hmm, the most difficult thing I’ve done? Making it to the major leagues was incredibly difficult, but that kind of falls into the same realm of you’re just continuing to play a game. Taking the MCATs was really difficult.
Were you studying while you were in the minors?
I took them very, very early on in my minor league career. I was balancing playing baseball while I was reviewing biochemistry.
This past World Series, you had some uncharacteristic rough outings. What’s going through your mind after those games?
To be perfectly honest, now that it’s 2014, I haven’t looked back at all.
You grew up in Trumbull (Conn.). Did you play sports with Chris Drury growing up?
He’s three years older than me, so I was obviously very aware of the success of that Little League team and his hockey career. I remember him umpiring some of my games, but I never actually played with him. When he was in New York, we exchanged emails since we were two professional athletes from the same small town. I got a chance to connect with him.
Do you have a favorite spot to go in Boston?
If I had to say I have a favorite spot, it’d probably be Newbury Street. If we get an off-day or have a day game and we have a chance to walk down the street, we always go. It’s a great street, with a lot to do, and a lot of character.
What’s your favorite road trip?
I always enjoy going to New York. It’s the only place outside of Boston that’s even closer to home. It’s always fun. Yankee Stadium is another tremendous venue and a team rich in tradition and history. The media makes so much of the Yankees-Red Sox series. It’s great.
Your fundraiser comes up on May 19. How important is the mission to cure pediatric cancer? I know it’s very personal for you.
My sister was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she was 13. She’s a few years older than me. I was 11. When you’re 11 years old, it’s hard and incredibly scary to hear someone has cancer. I remember questioning whether she was going to die the day I heard she had cancer. Fortunately, her diagnosis was OK. She was treated at Yale and I’m fortunate enough, as a baseball player, to have established Strike 3. We’ve dispersed over a million dollars in grants. Inclusive in that is a $50,000 research grant to research doctors that allows oncology fellows to actually pursue their research. Last year, we sponsored one. This year, we’re going to sponsor two of them.
Are you able to follow up a little bit on how the grant goes?
Yeah, we exchange emails and get profiles of the work. We get progress reports on the exact project that we funded. It’s a really neat thing for me, for our staff, our donor base to be able to keep up with this tangible project that we’re funding. We also gave $500,000 to Yale University Children’s Hospital. We were the founding sponsor of their Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplantation Program, which is the only one of its kind in Connecticut. They had their first patient in Sept. 2011. It’s one thing to support an organization that’s doing work, but it’s a totally different feeling to look and say, ‘Wow, a program we started five years ago is now accepting patients.’
If you ever went back into medical school, would it be pediatric oncology?
I’m not sure. I always imagined that my medical career would probably take me down a path of orthopedics, but I felt like that was probably just a result of me being a professional athlete. At this point, it certainly could be that. Ten years from now, after raising all this money for cancer research, if I go to medical school. I don’t know.