Kimbrel, wife lend support to Curing Kids Cancer
Closer spokesperson for charity created by parents who lost child to leukemia
ATLANTA -- A little more than an hour before the Braves were scheduled to begin a game at Turner Field in August, Craig Kimbrel visited a group of cancer-stricken children he had invited to the stadium.
As he began to address the kids and their families who were seated at picnic benches located on the right-field concourse, the often stone-faced Braves closer found himself fighting back the tears that developed after as he looked at the group and saw a young boy who had lost vision in one eye.
Just a year earlier, while visiting children at an Atlanta-area hospital, Kimbrel had seen this same young boy going through his initial treatments after being with cancer.
"Seeing all of them and thinking about all that they have gone through, it kind of is emotional," Kimbrel said. "When I was talking to them, I was thinking about it the whole time. That is really the reason I got choked up. It doesn't hurt to show how you feel sometimes because they feel the same way and it's good for them to know everybody else cares for them as much as well."
The baseball world has come to recognize Kimbrel as the intimidating right-hander who stands as the only pitcher in Major League history to notch at least 40 saves during each of his first three full seasons. Clay and Grainne Owen have come to know Kimbrel as a kind-hearted, generous individual who has proven to be the perfect spokesperson for their charity, Curing Kids Cancer.
"We just feel so blessed," Grainne said. "We really do. If I had written down all of the qualities I wanted in somebody, I couldn't have found anyone any better."
The Owens started their charity in 2004, one-year after their 9-year-old son Killian died of acute lymphocytic leukemia, which has become recognized as the most common and curable type of childhood cancer.
During his 4 1/2-year battle with this disease, Killian underwent chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. He also received experimental targeted treatment at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
Doctors performing this experimental treatment knew of a drug that had not yet received enough funding to be put through the necessary testing to gain approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration. The FDA granted these doctors permission to use this drug now recognized as Moxy, but only at a dosage that was essentially half of what Killian needed.
"As you can imagine, as a parent, that was the most awfully frustrating thing you could imagine," Grainne Owen said. "There was a medicine there that might have helped and we just couldn't get it to him and it was all just because of the money."
Since establishing Curing Kids Cancer, with the mission to prevent other parents from having to deal with similar helpless heartaches, the Owens have raised between $3 million and $4 million that has been used to pediatric cancer research.
Kimbrel has donated $100 for every save and $25 for every strikeout to the charity. This has amounted to more than $14,000 in donations the past two seasons. In addition, the Braves closer and his wife, Ashley, raised $65,000 during the Cowboy Boots and Cocktails event they held in Atlanta earlier this month.
"God gave me the ability to play baseball at the highest level and to have the exposure that I do," Kimbrel said. "So, I need to turn around and help others. We're in a situation where we can do that and there is no reason we should not. The way I look at life is you shouldn't turn and run the other way. You need to go and get things done, because if you don't try to get things done, then nobody else will either."
When Kimbrel was introduced to the Owens before the start of the 2012 season, he was moved by their story and desire to continue fighting after incurring a painful personal loss.
"That's what drew me to this family, the fact that they had been through it," Kimbrel said. "They fought the fight and were on the losing end of it and didn't want to quit."
Along with providing financial assistance, the Kimbrels have become even more invested while making hospital visits that allow them to be introduced to some of the children and families that they are trying to assist.
"I think people think celebrities stick their names on charities just to get visibility," Grainne Owen said. "I'm sure that is the case with some of them. But that is certainly not the case with Craig. He and Ashley have jumped in and they want to know all about what we're doing. They like to be kept informed about what is going on. They have met a lot of the children and they genuinely care about what we're doing. I've seen Craig get choked up on more than one occasion when he talks about what we're doing. He's really invested in it."
A little more than a year before being introduced to Kimbrel, the Owens were preparing for Christmas when they were informed three children who had been treated with Moxy --- the drug their son had helped gain approval -- had seen their leukemia go into complete remission.
Heartwarming stories like this stir Kimbrel's emotional side and provide him even more motivation to aid the Owens as they attempt to prevent other families from having to deal with the heartache of burying a loved one, knowing that things might have turned out different had the finances been available to complete the research of a particular drug.
"Even if your family isn't directly affected by cancer, if you have kids in school and one of their friends ends up getting it, that affects your child as well," Kimbrel said. "It's something that you don't want your child to go through. It doesn't just affect the children themselves, it affects everyone around them."
To make a donation or to learn more about this charity, visit curingkidscancer.org.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.