Rays get shaves for pediatric cancer research

March 15, 2013

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Stu Sternberg hovered toward the back of a crowd, freshly shaven and eager to see his manager appear the same. Feet away, Joe Maddon sat in a chair and watched the bustle around him as his white hair fell to the boardwalk.

Sternberg looked ahead, toward the spectacle. The Tampa Bay Rays principal owner and others within the franchise — players, management and additional staff — had gathered in a small area Friday beyond the right-field wall at Charlotte Sports Park to have their hair cut for a quality cause. Sternberg, with cameras and onlookers fixed on Maddon, paused and offered a greeting. This sight was something to see.

“Hey, there,” Maddon said, observing Sternberg approach.

“Good thing you have some growth there,” Sternberg said, rubbing his chin.

For the second consecutive year, the Rays took part in “Fortune Favors the Bald,” an event that raised funds for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, which is headquartered in Tampa. Before the Rays’ 3-1 win against the Philadelphia Phillies, more than 100 people — including at least 65 members of the Rays' franchise — took to one of three chairs under the sun and met a razor for a larger mission.

The event was part of the fourth annual “Cut for a Cure Charity Challenge,” a series of six sponsored shavings around the Tampa Bay region that assist in fundraising that runs until May 3. The Rays’ gathering was the charity's first this year, after the overall event raised more than $350,000 in 2012. On Friday, fans who gave a $100 donation shaved their heads with the Rays and received a black “Fortune Favors the Bald” T-shirt.

“We learned a lot of valuable lessons last year,” Maddon told FOXSportsFlorida.com. “The big part of it is vanity; just throw it in the garbage can. It’s for a wonderful cause. … When you talk to (affected parents), you know how important it is and how worthwhile it is. Many times we don’t understand the impact we have in regards to doing something or talking about something or becoming involved in something. We don’t know the true impact until you walk a minute in the shoes of those people, and they relay that to us. It was pretty significant.”

The Rays’ strong turnout was similar to their showing last year. More than 70 players, coaches and staff members participated in the inaugural effort, and at least about 50 were expected Friday. Maddon said he hopes the event becomes a spring tradition.  

“It actually got a good amount of traction last year, not just locally but nationally,” Sternberg said. “I’d like to think if we can lift the boats a little bit, we’ve done our job. It does actually work out to be a nice team-building thing for Joe to lead this for everybody. It’s great for our players to get involved.”

By being involved, the Rays draw attention to sobering facts. Throughout the world, according to the foundation, more than 160,000 kids are diagnosed with cancer each year. In the United States, 33 kids are diagnosed with cancer each day. Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease among American children younger than 15.

Nancy Crane, the Pediatric Cancer Foundation’s executive director, said she hopes at least $400,000 is raised through the challenge in the next two months. Funds will be used to assist in research that seeks to discover less toxic, more targeted therapies for kids.

“It’s just hair,” Crane said, as activity picked up near a sign-in table. “If we can do a head-shaving and spread the word and let people know what we’re doing for research and for these kids, then come on and join us.”

There were light moments to remember for those who did join. Sternberg, Maddon and executive vice president Andrew Friedman drew the largest crowds. Outfielder Sam Fuld and infielder Cole Figueroa — both with thick hair prior to the shave — were among the most anticipated to receive a clean cut.

“At first, it was a little hesitation,” Figueroa said earlier Friday morning. “But my hair will grow back, so I’m not too worried about it. … I think it definitely shows our support.”

Added right-hander Jeremy Hellickson: “I think other teams would absolutely do it, but Joe actually did it and put it together and went through with it. I think a lot of teams would love to do it.”

Maddon seemed to love it all. After he rose from his chair, a small round of applause followed from observers nearby, a fitting tribute for his gesture. Earlier, thick white hair filled his head. Now, he was shaven.

Fortune favors the generous, indeed.

“I’m really happy,” Maddon said, “that we can do it again.”

For more information about the Cut for a Cure Charity Challenge, please visit: http://pcfcutforacure.org or call 813-269-0955.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.