It started with one sick child.
Nicholas was seven years old in 2000, and he was in the hospital with a brain tumor. Greg Durfee met Nicholas through his pastor, who was Nicholas’s uncle. Greg and Nicholas clicked immediately, and Greg became a frequent visitor to the pediatric cancer wing at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.
During a time when Nicholas was feeling pretty well, Greg took him to an Angels game in Anaheim. Nicholas got to meet a couple players and enjoy an evening being a kid at a baseball game instead of a cancer patient in a hospital.
Two weeks later, Nicholas passed away. For Greg, who had always believed that God would heal Nicholas, the death was a trial of faith that was too much for him to handle. He sunk into a deep depression, eventually losing his job and his apartment and ending up homeless on L.A.’s Skid Row for about two years.
Greg’s salvation came in the form of a drug addiction recovery program, even though he did not use drugs. “I had no addictions,” he said, “just this severe depression. The program, it helped me get my faith back.”
Greg got his life back on track and got himself a job at a store in Hollywood. At the store, he met a man named Doug DeLuca, who at the time was the chairman of comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s charitable foundation. One day, DeLuca asked Greg what his passion in life was. “I told him I felt my mission was to help kids and families.”
In 2005, Greg met a five-year-old boy with stomach cancer named Steve Mondragon. Remembering his experience with Nicholas five years earlier, Greg took Steve to an Angels game. “You should have seen his face,” says Greg. “He was so excited. It meant so much to him, and it meant to much to me.” Greg ended up doing a larger trip, taking Steve to all five Major League stadiums in California.
That was the beginning of the Youth Cancer Baseball Tour. Since 2010, Greg and his group have attended five to seven Major League Baseball games per year. In each city they visit, they take as many sick children and their families to the game as they can afford.
“We just want the families to focus on that day away from the hospital,” Greg says, “away from chemo, away from their situation, and just create that family memory at the ballpark.”
For the 2015 season, Greg hopes to take the Youth Cancer Baseball Tour to seven stadiums: Anaheim, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Denver, Arizona, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Each game costs about $500 to take a group of 25 people, so his fundraising goal for this season is $3,500.
The plan for next season is to try to go to all 30 Major League stadiums, winding up in San Diego for the All-Star Game in July.
“The hardest thing for me to do is to raise the money,” Greg said. “But every time I get frustrated and think we’re not going to have a tour this year, my faith comes in, and I think, ‘How can I let these kids down?’ So I’m on the Internet three, four, seven hours a day raising money.”
If you would like to donate to the Youth Cancer Baseball Tour, Greg has set up a campaign at GoFundMe to accept donations: http://www.gofundme.com/bb54qc
By the way, one side note: Steve Mondragon, the five-year-old boy with stomach cancer, is now a fifteen-year-old Little League player who has been cancer free for about four years.
Links to learn more about the Youth Cancer Baseball Tour:
- GoFundMe page: http://www.gofundme.com/bb54qc
- MLB.com article from 2013: http://m.mlb.com/news/article/48960542/greg-durfee-finds-calling-sending-kids-to-games
- Denver Post article from 2011: http://www.denverpost.com/billjohnson/ci_18511251
- Radio interview with Greg on 1360 Sports in San Diego: http://www.1360sports.com/media/podcast-loose-cannons-loosecannons/greg-durfee-youth-baseball-cancer-tour-26000436/