Pavel Dzemianok / For the Boston Globe
With three freshmen on his squad this year, East Boston baseball coach Phil Brangiforte is starting to have more and more players on his team that weren’t around for his wife’s bout with colon cancer four years ago.
“They don’t really know the meaning behind it and stuff but they know we wear our blue shirts and stuff,” Brangiforte said of this weekend's fourth annual Strike Out Colon Cancer tournament at East Boston Stadium.
“They have been good about it. Everybody gets up for that tournament they want to win it and stuff. We do have some players who played in it. They know what the meaning is. They hear that cancer word and it’s scary for everybody.”
Shortly after delivering their fifth child four years ago, Brangiforte’s wife, Carrie, was diagnosed with colon cancer and survived emergency surgery at Boston Medical Center. Brangiforte’s mother-in-law, Jacki Anthony — the wife of East Boston hockey coach Robert Anthony — was also treated at BMC last year when her breast cancer that was in remission for 11 years spread to her bones.
The tournament has already raised more than $20,000 for colon cancer research at Boston Medical Center. The family also runs the Deep Freeze hockey tournament every year to benefit breast cancer.
“BMC saved her life so I figured this is the way to go, they helped us so we’re trying to help them,” Brangiforte said during a post-game interview last month. “It’s definitely [bittersweet]. It always brings up memories. It’s good to see she is healthy and they did a good job. Dr. [James] Petros from BMC is a blessing.”
The two-day tournament starts Saturday and besides, East Boston, will feature Madison Park, Newton South and Malden. Madison Park, the first city league team besides East Boston to participate in the tournament, will play the Jets at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
After opening ceremonies at 11:45 a.m. on Saturday, Newton South will play Malden at noon. Sunday's consolation game will be at noon followed by the championship game at 3 p.m. The closing ceremony and awards will follow the championship game.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun and we look forward to going up against Madison Park,” Brangiforte said.
But Brangiforte knows the weekend is about so much more than baseball. His family and his team work nonstop selling hotdogs and hamburgers and raffle tickets to raise funds for cancer research. They also hold a silent auction.
“We’re here from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.” Brangiforte said. “My team, we [usually] play the first game, the 12 o’clock game, and we’re getting ready for a game but all those kids stay afterwards and they are helping out afterwards and they are cleaning up at the end.”
East Boston High Principal, Mike Rubin, said the school rallies around the baseball and hockey tournaments each year.
“It supports our mission in our school,” Rubin said of the tournament. “I want our student body to always be giving back and help those less fortunate than them. We do a lot of that at East Boston. It’s important for us to realize there’s people out there in the world that need help and if you are blessed you should try to help those less fortunate.”
Rubin said he especially looks forward to the baseball tournament because it’s his tradition to throw out the opening pitch with Mayor Thomas Menino.
“I do, my schedule is very busy but I make sure I’m at the the breast cancer hockey fundraiser and I’m always at this one as well,” Rubin said.
Although it chokes him up, Brangiforte said he’s not shy about telling his family’s story to his new players.
“I tell them what it’s all about and a lot of them know and they see it,” he said. “I want them to know ‘Hey, we’re not just raising money.’ But I want them to know why we are raising money. But it’s tough. would I ever had that tournament like that if my wife didn’t have colon cancer? Probably not because you don’t do things unless it affects you.
But Brangiforte said it makes his players take both life and baseball more seriously.
"I think it definitely does open them up," he said. "Those games, it’s more about those kids caring. Which they do, they are here.”
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