Baseball team using platform to confront cancer

by Matt Couture / Beacon Staff • March 16, 2016

Combining their off-field skills with their on-field platform, Emerson’s baseball team is joining the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition’s fight to prevent the disease. 

The Lions are leading an effort to raise funds and spread the word ahead of the Coalition’s June 18 “Against the Tide” event, which will feature the option to run, walk, swim, or kayak for charity, according to the group’s website. 

First-year head baseball coach Nick Vennochi, who was hired to replace his former skipper Dave Hanley, said word that Hanley’s daughter had been diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age served as an impetus for the team to act.

“I care about [Hanley] still. The guys care about him still,” Vennochi said. “When I found out in the fall that his daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was a jolt to me [and] to everybody, really.”

The involvement in the community represents something of a trend for the Lions. Earlier in the academic year, Vennochi said they visited Cradles to Crayons to sort clothing and volunteered at the Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women. 

Athletic director Patricia Nicol, who praised the group’s past service, said she’s impressed that the baseball team stepped up to fight for what is predominately a female health issue.

“Everyone can relate to, or has known someone, that has gone through a cancer situation,” Nicol said. “For a male organization such as the baseball team to support an issue that primarily involves women makes a different kind of statement, that regardless of gender, regardless of ethnicity, people are people, and we need to support each other.” 

Vennochi said he contacted multiple organizations about a potential partnership and heard back first from the MBCC. He said their niche—working to prevent cancer instead of treat it—made their fight intriguing. 

“They’re different, which made it cool because we’re highlighting something that no one really hears a lot about,” Vennochi said. “This organization is extremely special because everybody in the organization pretty much has cancer. They’re so selfless in a time where you think you’d be selfish because you’re trying to stay alive.”

To contribute to the MBCC, the baseball team has released a public service announcement on YouTube and started a funding page to raise cash for the “Against the Tide” event in June. At press time, $450 has been contributed on behalf of Emerson baseball. Vennochi said he hopes to raise $1,000 or more by the summer.

To create the over seven-minute long PSA, junior pitcher Cal Laird said his teammates were placed in front of a green screen to read a series of facts related to the struggle against breast cancer. Laird, a visual and media arts major, worked to produce the PSA once video had been shot.

Vennochi said filming the video led players to encounter some tough realities about the disease, but it allows key information to reach a broader audience that might not necessarily be interested in a project produced by adults.

“Reading facts about cancer is not comfortable. Reading facts about breast cancer is definitely not comfortable, especially for men,” Vennochi said. “But I think it’s something that was super important for them to know, and now they can have an understanding. They can educate their friends.” 

The PSA featured 23 of 25 players and Vennochi, along with a representative from the MBCC explaining the different options for event participation this summer. Laird said he feels obligated to complete service off the ball field as a college athlete.

“We really feel that we have to give back to where we’ve come from,” Laird said. “We’re looked up [to] as role models to a lot of little kids and a lot of people, and we feel like we as a team have a duty to help out where we can.”

Nicol said the opportunity for students like Laird to bring their academic skills to the athletic department and create powerful messages like the PSA demonstrates an effort to merge interests and follow the college’s core values.

“It’s all about integrating our student-athletes into the campus community and collaborating with other students,” Nicol said. “It’s developing an appreciation for what we all do and experiencing the skill of all students.”

Vennochi said players who are from the local area are expected to participate in the “Against the Tide” event. 

The Lions (3-6, 0-0) finish off their regular season on April 23 against Babson College.