Ryan Lazenby’s Hit for the Cure
KANNAPOLIS — Ryan Lazenby, 23, was a high school senior at Northwest Cabarrus when his mother, Gail, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“I came home from baseball practice, and my parents had just come back from Wake Forest, and they sat me down and told me they’d found cancer,” Lazenby said. “I remember exactly when it was. Our Senior Game was the next day.”
The next few weeks were a blur for Lazenby. When the 3A playoffs started, it felt weird not seeing his mother in the stands. Both of his parents were in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University, discussing treatment options.
Pancreatic cancer is among the most devastating forms of a dreaded disease. Seventy-five percent of the cases are fatal within a year. After five years, 95 percent of diagnosed cases have proven fatal.
“After the cancer, my senior year just kind of ran right into my freshman year at UNC Charlotte,” Lazenby said.
Eight months after she was diagnosed, Gail Lazenby died on Feb. 1, 2009. She was 46.
Lazenby, an infielder, was an all-conference player for coach Joe Hubbard and will always be the correct answer to a trivia question — Who followed Kyle Seager at shortstop at Northwest?
He had decided to play at Catawba, but then Charlotte offered him a spot, and he was a 49er as a freshman. He eventually transferred to N.C. State, gave up baseball and concentrated on his studies.
He’s a strong student. He plans to intern with Kannapolis attorney Todd Williford this summer.
He is also a person committed to making things better. Search for “Ryan Lazenby” on the Internet and you’ll find a picture of him as one of a group of volunteers cleansing the Neuse River of bottles and cans.
His most passionate cause now won’t surprise you. It’s PanCan — the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, an organization whose mission is to advance medical research, support patients and create hope.
In 2010, Lazenby put together a benefit basketball game in memory of his mother to raise money for PanCan.
In 2011 and 2012, Lazenby put his efforts into PurpleStride 5k races that raised thousands of dollars for the cancer fight.
“My team alone raised $4,000 last year,” Lazenby said. “The total event raised something like $100,000.”
Lazenby said he got the idea not long ago that he wanted to try baseball this year. Baseball would be the best possible sport both to remember his mother and to raise money at the same time. And that’s how Lazenby’s “Hit for the Cure” got started.
“It clicked that maybe we could bring back a lot of the guys I grew up watching and the guys I played with for an alumni game,” Lazenby said. “It would bring back a community of baseball fans from different generations.”
Three days after he started talking about it, Lazenby had 35 players signed up.
A lot of them will be from the 2005 squad that was Northwest’s best team since the 1970s. That team won 25 games and was 3A state runner-up, losing in the championship series to a Southern Alamance team that included current Chicago Cubs outfielder David Sappelt.
The Trojans featured the slugging of Kyle Seager, now the third baseman for the Seattle Mariners, and the poweful Faggart twins, Jake and Jerod. The pitching leaders were Blake Ketner, who went on to a great career at Catawba, and left-hander Nick Daniels, who is now Northwest’s pitching coach. Daniels won 11 games in that magical 2005 season.
“The first thing I thought about with a Northwest alumni game was Blake pitching against Nick, “Lazenby said. “That’s something a lot of people will want to see.”
The “Hit for the Cure” event is set for this Saturday at Northwest. A number of sponsors have already come through for Lazenby, and a good crowd is expected.
A Home Run Derby will start at 5 p.m., with a nine-inning alumni game — probably an orange vs. black contest — will follow.
Admission is $5. Concessions and special T-shirts for the event will be sold. Donations will be accepted. All proceeds will go in the form of one big check to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
Seager won’t be able to be there in person, obviously. but in a sense, Northwest’s most famous player will be part of the event.
“Kyle was happy to sign some baseballs for us that we’ll be selling raffle tickets for,” Lazenby said. “I don’t know any baseball fans in the area that wouldn’t want something signed by Kyle Seager.”