SARASOTA, Fla. – At 6-foot-8, Adam Russell looks like an unlikely sidearm pitcher. He looks like an even more unlikely spokesman for the fight against cancer.
When the Orioles signed Russell to a minor league contract last December, they weren’t sure what they were getting. The 29-year-old who is listed at 255 lbs., but seems heavier, seemingly fills half the hotel elevator.
The big man is 8-3 with a 3.95 ERA in 85 games over four big league seasons, has a lot more on his mind than just making the Orioles. He wants to use the major leagues as a forum to help others.
“I need a bigger name,” Russell said. “To do the good I want to do. I wish I had the bigger name.”
Two years ago, Russell was with Tampa Bay when his story came out. He was the only member of his family who didn’t have the cancer gene. In a country where more than a third of all Americans get cancer in their lifetime, his family had been ravaged by it.
His sister, Tracy Galvin has stage four breast cancer that metastasized to her liver. “And she still stays positive,” Russell said.
“People out there said: ‘Thank you for sharing your story.’”
Russell preaches about the necessity of early detection. “A lot of people know that there are cancer genes out there and that if it runs in the family, then you should probably get yourself checked out,” he said.
Besides Tracy, his sister Lindsay made the heart-wrenching choice to have a double mastectomy when she learned that she had the cancer gene and an 87 percent chance of contacting it.
Russell calmly ticks off the members of his family who have cancer.
His grandmother has breast cancer. Tracy Galvin’s husband Marty has non-smokers lung cancer. His father has skin cancer. Another grandmother died of ovarian cancer.
“It definitely runs in the family,” he said calmly.
While dealing with all the challenges of his family, Russell manages to use his job positively.
“Baseball’s always been therapeutic,” Russell says. “Baseball’s always been our outlet. Everything’s always about cancer.”
“Baseball’s always been a great source of happiness for my family. Everyone in my family is crazy about baseball.”
His life has been changed by his family, and by talking with his sister, does what he can to maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating better and exercising.
“I want to use this story, not for people to know about who I am. I want to be a source of inspiration for people,” he said.
“I’m the only one in my family who doesn’t carry the gene. It’s kind of a weird feeling,” Russell said.
“It’s a blessing, I guess.”