Five years removed his own battle with cancer, Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester joined with the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation to launch the NVRQT (Never Quit) campaign earlier this year. Among its events was a NVRQT Night at the House of Blues in Boston -- where he posed with teammates Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, and Will Middlebrooks for the photo above -- and with no time like the holidays to put things in proper perspective, we asked Lester to reflect on the first year of that experience.
By Jon Lester
During our first NVRQT season I got to meet dozens of kids fighting cancer. In Boston, Seattle and Los Angeles, the Red Sox and our NVRQT team arranged for families to come to the game so I could meet the kids. What stood out to me the most about the entire campaign was the resilience of the children. The kids wanted to talk baseball not cancer. Their eyes were bright, their determination strong and their outlook on the disease was all about the battle to be won. That’s exactly what I remember from 6 years ago: How to get through treatment and beyond cancer.
It took me 5 years to get to the point that I felt comfortable going back into a hospital. Whenever we visit kids the smell of the place still brings back some not-too-pleasant memories, but meeting the kids quickly changes all that. We do love meeting the kids, signing some balls and telling stories.
My 5 year cancer-free mark coincided with my son Hudson’s birth and Farrah and I decided it was time to give back. After meeting so many kids and their families we also saw the look in their parent’s eyes. There is a worry so pure and a fear so deep that we knew it was something we never wanted to go through.
Our cause would become children’s cancer research. I had helped out the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation years ago and we decided every penny NVRQT raised would go straight to them. PCRF provides grants to researchers around the country who are working on better treatments and real cures that will change care around the world. I recieved a LOT of support from teammates and fans when I was sick and the words of encouragement meant a lot during some of those long days.
The NVRQT (never quit) message, delivered on a baseball (or a wristband or patch) gives the kids something to hold on to and inspire them to fight today and get back on the field with friends as soon as possible. I know of little league teams who have signed the balls for pals, classmates who have signed them for kids and families who get the balls and hold a NVRQT baseball game in honor of a struggling sibling. It seems that the message and the ball are really well received.
This coming season we plan to meet with more kids across the country, we’ll hold another NVRQT Day at Fenway over the summer and once again have a NVRQT Night at the end of the season with fans and my teammates. This first NVRQT season was a great start to what we hope will be a continued effort to make every day better for kids fighting cancer and raising the crucial funds for research in this poorly supported area of science.
Farrah and I want to thank all of our friends and fans who have supported NVRQT this past year. NVRQT is the attitude I brought to cancer and the same determination I bring to this cause and frankly my job. Together I know we made a difference in 2012 and that impact will only grow in the years to come. I’m really looking forward to the 2013 season and have high expectations for both the Red Sox and NVRQT. Thank you all and Happy Holidays!
Rob Gronkowski hasn't played in a month, and the Globe had the scoop earlier Friday that he won't play Sunday in Jacksonville, either. But if his absence has left you jonesing for one of his signature spikes, BodyArmor SuperDrink is here to give you your fix.
Come for the spike, stay for the Christmas tree-and-snowflake sweater that's a size too small for him. And the apartment where things like pictures and Fatheads are wrapped pass as Christmas decorations. And some really top-notch acting.
(Also note the attention purposefully paid to avoiding any clear shot of Gronkowski's lower left arm.)
The NHL is an absolute mess these days, with the league announcing Thursday that its lockout has now canceled any contests scheduled through Jan. 14, and its next announcement likely to be one that cancels the entire 2012-13 season. Regardless of which side ultimately deserves more, for merely letting it get this far both the owners and players are to blame for what's gone wrong.
But at least in Boston -- and particularly during this holiday season -- the team employees that exist outside of those two polar factions continue to do things right.
On Wednesday morning a half-dozen delegations from the Bruins delivered toys and gifts to patients at Boston hospitals all around their home city, visiting Boston Children's Hospital, the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center, Franciscan Hospital for Children, Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, Shriners Hospitals for Children, and the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital to brighten the holidays for the children receiving care at each.
Funded by the Boston Bruins Foundation, Delaware North Companies and Garden Neighborhood Charities, they dropped off an estimated total of $22,500 in gifts, according to the team's website -- and, even more impressively, it was simply the culmination of a full season's worth of efforts.
Afforded a bit more free time than usual, front-office executives, coaches, and staff members have been visible in the community, even buying the gifts they distributed Wednesday in a Target trip headed by team president and icon Cam Neely. The head coach did some reading as "Santa Claude" Julien, staff members worked at the Salvation Army Christmas Castle event, and assistant coach Doug Houda even helped select Christmas trees for the troops.
Thanks to Boston Bruins TV there's video of it all, and it's posted below. Check it out. Hey, if labor strife beyond their control doesn't allow you to watch the product of their work on the ice, you might as well see what the good things they're achieving off of it.
Neely and Julien take the front office and hockey operations staff shopping:
Julien reads to kids during the Four Seasons' Boston Teddy Bear Tea:
B's staff visits Spaulding Hospital and works at the Salvation Army's Christmas Castle event:
Houda helps trees get to the troops:
Brandon Lloyd isn't really one to talk much after a game -- even if he caught 10 passes for 190 yards in that game, like he did without much post-contest commentary on Sunday. But the Patriots' receiver has something to say about the way athletes handle their money, and he's hoping young pros and young people are listening.
"You give a 22-year-old millions of dollars, you're going to make really poor decisions. Period," Lloyd tells Yahoo! Sports in a video clip available here, which shows him cautioning a school group in Lowell about the importance of managing money. It also shows him explaining through the example of the Hummer H2 he bought himself soon after signing his first NFL deal that it is possible for athletes to be smart about their finances while still enjoy the luxuries afforded by seven- and eight-figure salaries.
"An opportunity to earn more money presents more challenges. As long as I'm saving towards a goal, I always feel like I can have my stuff on the side," he says in the video. "It's fine to want things; it's fine to have things if you're into that. But having goals to purchase what you want, and having a plan to save what you earn, is the key to it."
When contract issues were part of the reason he was traded from Denver to St. Louis in 2011, Lloyd said "the way teams show their appreciation to a player in this business is to pay them accordingly." He didn't subsequently stay with the Rams for long, signing a three-year, $12 million pact with the Pats prior to 2012, and as part of his quest to make sure that other players appreciate the appreciation being shown toward them he made the November visit to Lowell High School as an ambassador for the National Financial Educators Council's Money XLive.
That program encourages young adults to educate themselves on matters of personal finance, and aims to arm them with the knowledge and confidence to take effective action in the future. For a pro football player, that apparently includes knowing where to invest money -- and avoiding making deposits never to be seen again.
"That's the first thing that needs to be said to NFL players," Lloyd said. "You're going to give someone money, and they ain't gonna pay you back."
The Red Sox introduce their newest starting pitcher on Wednesday, with Ryan Dempster meeting the Boston media. The 35-year-old has been a starter, a closer, then a starter again during a career that's now taken him to five big-league cities, so certainly with that breadth of experience there's a lot to know about him.
Notably, the Canadian pal of Kevin Millar was named by The Sporting News as one of the "99 Good Guys in Sports" back in 2001, and now one of his primary focuses is the Dempster Family Foundation, which is dedicated to raising awareness of 22q11.2 deletion (DiGeorge Syndrome/VCFS) and reaching out to families with children with the disorder, and the charities that support them. It's a cause near and dear to Dempster, whose infant daughter, Riley, was diagnosed with the syndrome back in 2009, and whose foundation is actively taking donations in creative denominations.
But aside from being an inning-eating hurler, Dempster may best be known for his spot-on impersonations. In Chicago, especially, his Harry Caray was a hit, though he does a darn good Matt Foley -- yes, the motivational speaker -- as well. Check out the clips below, and if you're thirsty for more laughs, there's plenty on YouTube. (And something tell us that by the end of his new deal, there'll be a Joe Castiglione imitation to add to the collection.)
Dempster as Harry Caray, calling his theoretical first home run:
Dempster and ex-Ranger teammate Derek Holland as dueling Harry Carays:
Dempster as Chris Farley, as Matt Foley, from Saturday Night Live:
Only the Bradys receive more face time than Vince and Bianca Wilfork among Patriots' power couples -- and Mr. and Mrs. 75 are about to get even more, thanks to a new partnership with Bedford-based iRobot.
Above you can watch the first of five comedic webisodes in a series of shorts called, "At Home With the Wilforks," that debuted Sunday and will roll out the rest of the episodes over the next four weeks. In the initial show we see the quick work of iRobot's Roomba vacuum sparing Vince and the kids from Bianca's motherly wrath after a popcorn fight breaks out on the couch, and the Boston Business Journal says part of the promotion is that those vacuums will be helping to clean up the club and VIP levels at Gillette Stadium during the season's remaining home games.
Also according to that same story, the series is "modeled after comedy classics" -- and, indeed, we can see a little bit of Carl Winslow in Wilfork's brilliant performance. If "Family Matters" ever gets remade, he should at least get an audition. Rajon Rondo, of course, would play Steve Urkel.
With their final weekend before Christmas to be spent in Jacksonville, a few of the Patriots did some holiday shopping Tuesday and Wednesday -- to help those in need, of course.
Tuesday night the Patriots' Charitable Foundation partnered with the Vince Wilfork Foundation and the Patriots' Alumni Club to take 50 children from homeless shelter programs in Massachusetts and Rhode Island on a shopping spree through the Bass Pro Shops at Patriot Place. After getting dinner, each kid received a $400 gift card and was joined by Patriots players while they picked out gifts for themselves and one for a loved one as part of an evening that also featured photos with Santa, gift wrapping, crafts, games, and more.
Wilfork was there, as was Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory, Zoltan Mesko, Rob Ninkovich, Nate Solder, Matthew Slater, Kyle Love, and other Patriots both past and present. In the photo above, Michael Hoomanawanui helps with the shopping, as do Wilfork and expert wrapper Kevin Faulk in the shots below. (All photos are courtesy of the New England Patriots.)
Wednesday it'll be Deion Branch and his family, in conjunction with the Children's Center of Blackstone Valley, taking a group of kids to do some shopping at an area Target store. Among the primary missions of the Branch's Deion Branch Foundation is to provide "support for the mental, physical, emotional well-being of children" like those served at the Pawtucket facility, which is a healing haven for victims of various types of abuse.
“Over the past week, the country has been on a roller coaster of emotions. It made me as well as many Americans realize how important children are and that they deserve a chance," Branch said in a release. "They deserve love, food, shelter and a good education. This shopping event has a special meaning for me and my family to cherish every moment and to count our blessings as we end 2012 and head into 2013.”
As the Red Sox ready to introduce one of their free-agent acquisitions, sure to tout him as a player whose statistics suggest he can do a little bit of everything, here's a glimpse of Shane Victorino beyond the numbers on the back of his baseball card:
*They love him in his native Hawaii. The 32-year-old Victorino was born in Wailuku on the island of Maui, and there's a lot of mutual pride between the state and the outfielder who's nicknamed "The Flyin' Hawaiian." About a year ago the governor officially proclaimed Nov. 21 as "Shane Victorino Day," and around that same time the menu at the Hawaiian restaurant chain Zippy's offered patrons the Vic Pac -- which is a platter of chicken, sausage, Spam, and beef served over rice. Those, apparently, are some of Victorino's favorite foods, and each time the Pac was ordered, 50 cents went to the Shane Victorino Foundation. He and his wife Melissa founded that organization to promote opportunities for underserved youth in February 2010.
*He's such a Hawaiian, he made a cameo on "Hawaii Five-0." Here it is, playing a character named Shaun. With skills like these, not only did the Red Sox sign Carl Crawford's replacement in left field -- they also signed someone to take over his brilliant work in those Dunkin' Donuts commercials.
*He's revered off the field. Victorino fits well with what seems to be the theme of this offseason for the Sox, toting a couple of awards to vouch for his high character. In 2008, the Iron Horse's fraternity brothers from Phi Delta Theta named Victorino their winner of the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, which since 1955 has been given annually to the Major League Baseball player who best exemplifies the spirit and character of Lou Gehrig, both on and off the field. Then, in 2011, he received the Branch Rickey Award, which baseball bestows upon one person each year in recognition of exceptional community service.
*He has ADHD. Saying attention deficit hyperactivity disorder made it hard for him to focus earlier in his career, Victorino joined Shire's "Own It" initiative this past May, encouraging adults to be reexamined by a doctor if they believe the symptoms of ADHD are still impacting their lives. Click here to see a spot he filmed for the cause.
*They were sad to see him go in Philadelphia. Particularly this kid.
*And, after eight seasons and a World Series title, he was reflective when traded from the Phillies to the Dodgers, too. So much so that he took out an ad in the Philadelphia Daily News to say, "mahalo."
*There's a book about him. "Shane Victorino: The Flyin' Hawaiian" was published by Triumph Books in 2011, and is currently available at quite a discount on Amazon for those still shopping for the Red Sox fan in their life. In it, we learn that his parents met while working at McDonald's, and that he's named after Alan Ladd's title character in the 1953 film, "Shane," which is a favorite of his father. His middle name, Patrick, is meant in recognition of his family's strong Catholic views. Also among the book's revelations is that Deion Sanders is the athlete Victorino grew up wanting most to be like, and the story of his first pro ballgame, when he nearly killed ex-Red Sox Jason Repko. Apparently he didn't see Repko -- then a shortstop -- so when Victorino fired from the outfield, his throw hit his teammate directly in the temple, knocking him unconscious for a couple minutes.
*He was a four-sport athlete in high school. Victorino played football in the fall, played soccer in the winter, then played baseball and ran track for St. Anthony High School in the spring. Wikipedia claims that as a senior he won the state title in the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter dashes, setting the state meet record with a sprint of 10.80 seconds in the 100.
*He puts on a pretty good fashion show. It's his Foundation's charity event of choice, having staged it in Philadelphia each of the past three years with the support of his teammates, some of whom got really into the modeling. (And one of whom -- cough, cough, Papelbon -- apparently wore his jersey underneath a sports coat.) Typically the Sox leave the catwalk to their wives and girlfriends, but Victorino could try to change that this summer.
*He loves to tweet. He's @ShaneVictorino.
*He's an Eagle Scout. So finally, after two years of repeatedly being forced to put out fires in the clubhouse, the Sox have someone who can properly start one.
*Every day should be Shane Victorino Day. The Phillies had planned for months to distribute figurines showing Victorino in full Hawaiian regalia as fans entered the ballpark on June 3, 2007 -- though they couldn't have scripted the way everyone would exit.
Stepping to the plate with the game tied at 8 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Victorino was 0-for-4 and his team had just coughed away the one-run lead it gained by scoring five times in the seventh -- though the man of the hour stepped up and drove a Kevin Correia offering to the opposite field and over the fence, his walkoff homer giving the Phillies a dramatic 9-8 win over the Giants, and firmly planting himself in Philly lore.
(Sorry for the quality of the video below, but it's well worth it for a chance to hear the late Harry Kalas call the shot.)
After Monday night's big win over the Texans, the Patriots spoke about how quickly their next game is coming up, and said the preparations for Sunday's clash with the 49ers will start Tuesday. But before the linebacker and leading tackler digs in on film of San Francisco, Jerod Mayo will take to the streets to spread some kindness.
Joined by Jared Fogle -- you know him better as simply Jared from Subway -- Mayo will perform 12 random acts throughout the Boston area to thank fans of the team and the restaurant for their support. We've been asked not to say exactly where they'll be going, but we can tell you they're planning to make eight stops in the Boston area between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., and the various acts will include lending a helping hand, footing the bill on grocery shopping, as well as delivering gift cards and the sandwiches that helped make Jared so skinny.
Keep an eye out. You might get as lucky as fumbling into the end zone for a touchdown.
Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz held his fifth annual golf tournament over the weekend, and with the help of some of his celebrity friends the event was the most successful to date in its effort to raise money that provides critical care to children in the Dominican Republic.
The Classic directly benefits the David Ortiz Children’s Fund, which was founded in 2006 in partnership with the International Hospital for Children (now known as the World Pediatric Project) and annually draws an impressive list of participants. This year's group included gold medal-winning gymnast Aly Raisman, Saturday Night Live cast members Rachel Dratch and Seth Myers, six members of the 2004 World Series champion Red Sox, and Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano among a collection of baseball players both active and retired.
The most lucrative auction item was tickets to a taping of SNL (donated by Myers), which went for $13,000. A lunch date with Heidi Watney and a private gymnastics lesson with Raisman were also big-money items, drawing bids of almost $10,000 apiece.
Courtesy of Chaz Niell, here are a few photos from the event.
Ortiz and Raisman on the Punta Espada Golf Course
Ortiz and Watney
Ortiz and Hall of Famer Jim Rice
Terry Francona, Ortiz, Kevin Millar, Tim Wakefield, Martinez, and Johnny Damon in a mini-reunion of the '04 champs
Parents with little Patriots fans in their house might want to set the DVR for Nicktoons on Friday night at 9.
That's when, in the third episode of the series "NFL RushZone: Season of the Guardians," New England's own Rob Gronkowski and Stephen Gostkowski will provide the voices for their own animated personas as protagonists Ash and Ish pay a visit to Foxboro.
They're there to help solve the mystery created when Drop Kick (the villain, of course; somewhere, Doug Flutie is offended) nearly steals the Patriots' Megacore (a team's fans and community) by creating a robot replica of a local sports reporter (yeah, it's always the media's fault). Thankfully the Pats' tight end and kicker are there to help advise.
If you're among those who've long believed the gregarious Gronkowski is actually a 6-foot, 6-inch cartoon character living in the real world, well, now you have visual evidence of what that would look like. Already this season, the Lions' Calvin Johnson and Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware have voiced their own animations, while Pro Football Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Richard Dent, and Mike Ditka, as well as the Brothers Harbaugh, will also be among those making an appearance throughout the second season as the series shows Ish and Ash attempting to protect all 32 NFL teams from Drop Kick in what Nickelodeon claims to be the first-ever original half-hour animated series jointly developed by a cable network and major U.S. sports league.
It's also packaged with a website that features games and is also where you can see full episodes if your loyalty to WWE's Friday Night Smackdown preoccupies your DVR in that hour, or if you miss the replay on Saturday morning at 7 on NFL Network.
In the meantime, here are a couple of preview clips showcasing Gronkowski's voiceover work -- plus Rich Eisen and Michael Irvin -- courtesy of the NFL and Nickelodeon.
Now in what should be his sixth season as a Bruin, Shawn Thornton has made himself a Bostonian. So naturally -- afforded some free time thanks to the NHL lockout -- he partook in one of the city's holiday traditions Wednesday night, appearing with the Boston Pops to deliver an excellent recitation of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas at Symphony Hall.
Nice work there by the Bruins' enforcer. Now, with rumors of progress starting to be made, and proposals having been traded over the negotiating table, Bruins fans are hoping Wednesday 'twas the night before the end of the lockout, too.
What would you be willing to spend for an opportunity to have Rob Gronkowski come to your house and play some Xbox?
For three generous bidders at the Joe Andruzzi Foundation's New England Celebrities Tackles Cancer Gala, the answer apparently totaled up to $36,000.
Part of an auction staged Monday night during the benefit at the Putnam Club inside Gillette Stadium, the prize was originally supposed to be one four-hour session of gaming with Gronk. But when bids escalated quickly the decision was made to divide the opportunity, and ultimately three different people bid $12,000 apiece. It's still to be determined exactly how much time each winner will get with the Pats' All-Pro tight end, but organizers have assured that each of the high bidders will indeed get their own in-home visit with Gronkowski and his thumbs. Presumably once the left is out of its cast.
When everything was totaled up, the money pledged for the chance to hang with Gronkowski were part of an incredible sum of $500,000 that the Gala raised to help families cover household expenses during cancer treatments and aid funding for pediatric brain cancer research at Boston Children's Hospital, as a variety of Patriots past and present that joined other celebrities in lending their support to Andruzzi -- the ex-Patriots offensive lineman who won three Super Bowl championships before beating cancer.
“We hoped to make this year’s gala our best ever," the foundation's president and founder said of its fifth annual event, "and we definitely succeeded."
In addition to the live and silent auctions, the night started with a symposium focused on care giving and brain tumor research, then included a speaking program during which Patriots owner Robert Kraft thanked Andruzzi and his wife, Jen, for their work on behalf of cancer patients. The program also featured patients who have been helped by the Joe Andruzzi Foundation sharing their own stories, and after introducing its (Up)Beat Cancer rallying cry earlier this year -- to stress the power of positivity in conjunction with Andruzzi's fifth remission anniversary -- the Foundation presented its first (Up)Beat Award to Lisa Scherber, director of patient and family programs at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, for her work with young patients and their families.
After a summer in which their team became something of a laughingstock, at least the Red Sox can still laugh at themselves.
While they were at the ballpark for "Christmas at Fenway" this weekend, the players were apparently asked to help film a public service announcement for the annual Run to Home Base. Easy enough, right? Pull a jersey over your street clothes, sit in front of the camera, read the script that's been prepared for you. Should be simple.
Except these are the Red Sox -- so nothing is ever that simple. But at least in this case, the result is pretty funny.
The video's highlights include Jarrod Saltalamacchia battling some gum, Yale alum Ryan Lavarnway offering a suggestion on a script change, John Farrell stumbling over his words, and an appearance from Ryan Kalish's gigantic gold watch. Check it out.
And hope that by next summer you're not still wondering if the Sox are better ballplayers or spokespeople.