Pitching for prevention: Local cancer survivor delivers first toss at Twins game
It’s not every day that a lifelong Twins fan gets pitching advice from Hall-of-Famer Bert Blyleven. But that’s exactly what Eric Powell, a New Richmond native and stage three cancer survivor, got before he threw the first pitch at the Twins’ game against Cleveland July 21 at Target Field.
“One minute I was taking a picture with him in the press room, and the next minute he was telling me how to throw the ball to home plate,” Powell said. “It was pretty cool.”
Powell received the opportunity through Fight Colorectal Cancer, an advocacy organization that lobbied for cancer prevention at the Capitol with Powell in March. Although he didn’t know it at the time, Fight CRC had plans to team up with Fans for the Cure and Mayo Clinic for the Twins’ Pitch for Prevention campaign July 21-23, and when the organization began looking for cancer survivors to throw the honorary first pitch, Powell was at the top of their list.
“They called and asked me about three weeks after I got back from D.C.,” Powell said. “I’ve been a Twins fan for 41 years, so I said ‘sign me up!’”
In an effort to raise awareness for “below the belt” cancers, Powell marched onto the field with 16 other cancer survivors before taking the mound. With more than 25,000 fans in attendance, Powell said his walk to the rubber was exciting but emotional.
“I was honored that [Fight CRC] chose me, because they could’ve chosen a lot of other people,” Powell said. “But I was also thinking about all of the people who are still struggling with cancer and the people who haven’t made it.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prostate cancer is the second-leading killer of men in the U.S., and colorectal cancer is the third-leading killer of both men and women in the U.S. Powell was diagnosed with the latter in May 2007 and went through chemotherapy, radiation and two surgeries before being deemed cancer-free. Since then, he has been actively involved with the Colon Club’s annual Colondar, Get Your Rear in Gear and other colorectal cancer awareness groups.
Powell said he also plans on making his March trip to D.C. an annual affair. This year, he lobbied in support of H.R. 1070, formally known as the Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act of 2013. According to Powell, the bill seeks to eliminate the barrier to screening by waiving coinsurance under Medicare. So far, H.R. 1070 has more than 80 co-sponsors, and as Powell pointed out, prevention costs less than treatment.
“At some point after the diagnosis, I knew that I wanted to be an advocate and tell others that it’s possible to prevent colorectal cancer by early detection,” Powell said.
His pitch was only one piece of a series-long plan to raise awareness for colorectal and prostate cancer at Target Field. Recently named Fight CRC’s first spokesperson, country artist Craig Campbell kicked off the the Twins’ first face off against the Indians with a pre-game performance. Experts from Mayo Clinic were on site to answer questions about disease recognition and prevention, and a giant, inflatable colon was brought in for fans to walk through.
For Powell, it was a night he won’t soon forget. Besides tossing a pitch to mascot T.C. and watching the Twins close out a 4-3 win, he was able to contribute to a cause that is close to his heart.
“This is something that is so important,” Powell said. “When it comes to prevention, get educated about what the symptoms are, pay attention to your family history and please, go get screened.”