By Mallory Rubin
In 1993, doctors diagnosed Michael Milken with prostate cancer and told him he had 12-months to live. More than 13-years later, Milken stood triumphant in the Designated Hitters Lounge on the fourth-floor of the warehouse at Camden Yards and welcomed select Maryland residents to the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s (PCF) dinner for its 10th annual Home Run Challenge.
The June 8 dinner, held prior to the Orioles game against the Toronto Blue Jays, was held to increase awareness about prostate cancer and raise money for research. Steve Geppi, a part owner of the Baltimore Orioles and a prominent name in comic book distribution and collecting, and William Beatson, Jr., a part owner of the Orioles and real estate developer, have been the local hosts for the PCF event since its inception eight years ago. General Manger Mike Flanagan, Vice President of Baseball Operations Jim Duquette and former players Mike Bordick and B.J. Surhoff represented the Orioles organization at the event.
Milken founded PCF in 1993 after his diagnosis. The creation of PCF, then known as CaP CURE (Association for the Cure of Cancer of the Prostate) put him on the map as one of the nation’s leading philanthropists and contributors to medical research.
Since 1993, PCF has become the world’s largest philanthropic source of prostate cancer research funding, raising more than $260 million. The organization has funded more than 1,200 medial researchers at more than 100 institutions worldwide. It has also advocated increases in government research grants, which have increased from $25 million in 1993 to nearly $500 million today.
The Home Run Challenge, which was born in 1997, allows people to pledge money for each home run hit in 60 predetermined games over an 11-day span. Each of the 30 Major League Baseball teams plays in four of the 60 games with at least one home game. If a person pledges $1 per home run and 100 home runs are hit during the challenge, that person will give $100. Milken matches the amount pledged by every person. He estimated that a quarter of the $260 million raised since 1993 has come from him, while three-quarters has come from others. A running tally of home runs hit in the 2006 challenge can be seen at www.prostatecancerfoundation.org.
Hall of Fame Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda travels with Milken to numerous ballparks to promote prostate cancer awareness during the Challenge, which takes place around Father’s Day every season.
Mindy Geppi, wife of Steve Geppi, said the decision to hold the Challenge around Father’s Day goes hand-in-hand with its theme and slogan, "Keep Dad in the Game." Milken said baseball was the best sport to pair with PCF’s effort. "If one in six men is going to be diagnosed with prostate cancer, then it’s going to affect baseball," he said.
He estimated that 30-40 players or coaches have come up to him and told him personal stories about a family member or friend who had been affected by prostate cancer.
Returning to the theme "Keep Dad in the Game," Milken explained that baseball was chosen because it is the all-American sport and it gives people the opportunity to go to the ballpark and enjoy a game with their dads.
"Unlike sitting at a basketball game or a hockey game or something where it’s very difficult to carry on a conversation, because of the way baseball is played, you can actually talk to the person you’re with," Milken said. "So we encourage coworkers, fathers, brothers, sons, uncles, nephews, families to go out and enjoy a ballgame together."
Annapolis resident Kenn Roberts, who befriended Geppi at Oriole’s Fantasy Camp 11 years ago and has attended his event since its inception, said raising money is the biggest strength of the Home Run Challenge because the money goes to research, which is responsible for the progress being made in treatment and survival rates.
Robert Getzenberg, who took over as the research director at Johns Hopkins in 2005, agreed. "We’d like to thank the Prostate Cancer Foundation because we have received a lot of support from that and it’s really allowed us to make advances in an area where there really was no support before at all," Getzenberg said at the dinner. "It’s changed this field tremendously."
Milken said this particular program provides more awareness than any other in the country. More men get tested for prostate cancer in the 30 days after The Home Run Challenge ends than at any other point during the year because they see Milken and Lasorda at a game or hear them on the radio and decide to get tested, Milken said.
Milken announced that there are at least 100,000 American men, himself included, who are around today who were predicted not to be. PCF and The Home Run Challenge are leaving men all over the country with something much more valuable than a sky-blue wrist band. Instead, these men are left with the information they need to stay healthy and with less debilitating and more effective treatments.
Milken and PCF do not plan on stopping here, however. In a speech near the end of the dinner, Milken reiterated the goal of PCF: to eliminate prostate cancer entirely as a cause of suffering and death by 2015.
Posted June 9, 2006