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When he first met Gregory Chaya 13 years ago, Jamie Moyer was a 30-year-old journeyman whose career was headed nowhere. A slender lefthander whose fastball rarely reaches 85 mph, Moyer had been advised to retire a year earlier by the Chicago Cubs. (They released him, then offered him an interim coaching gig in the minors, but he instead spent the year with the Detroit Tigers' Triple A affiliate learning to throw his three basic pitches at different speeds.) Even his own father-in-law had advised him to hang it up and go back to college, but there was Moyer in the spring of '93, trying to hook on with the Baltimore Orioles, when he visited the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and met Greg, a two-year-old leukemia patient who needed a bone marrow transplant. "At the time I was still fighting for my career, but here was this little boy fighting for his life," says Moyer, now 43 and preparing for his 20th big league season and his 11th with the Seattle Mariners. "Seeing Greg put baseball in perspective, and suddenly out on the mound I didn't feel all this pressure. That changed everything."
With the letters GC inscribed on his cap and cleats and an improved ability to change speeds, Moyer went on to have a solid '93 season (12-9 with a 3.43 ERA) that revitalized his career. But the encounter with Greg--who got the marrow donation he needed and overcame his cancer, even though doctors had told his parents he had little chance to live--did more than help keep Moyer in baseball. "Watching Greg fight back opened my eyes to the struggles that so many children go through, and that made me want to commit more to helping kids like him," says Moyer, who remains in regular contact with the Chayas. (Greg is now a healthy high school freshman in Pennsylvania.)
Today there are few major league players more dedicated to helping children in need. The Moyer Foundation, created in 2000 by Moyer and his wife, Karen, has raised more than $3 million for 100-plus organizations helping children dealing with illness, family tragedy or financial hardship. The foundation's initiatives include the Gregory Fund (named for Chaya), which is dedicated to raising money for cancer research, and a bereavement camp for children and teens dealing with the death of a loved one. "Jamie is more involved in his foundation than any [professional athlete] I've ever seen in this area," says Chuck Armstrong, the Mariners' team president for 10 years.
Later this month the Moyers will undertake their biggest project yet, as the Moyer Foundation launches Dream Catchers, an exclusive charity auction--$500 merely gets you in the door--broadcast simultaneously in Seattle; Palm Springs, Calif.; and Sun Valley, Idaho, in which 21 once-in-a-lifetime experiences will be up for bid. Among them: a trip to India to meet the Dalai Lama at his home, dinner with Ichiro Suzuki, hitting lessons from Cal Ripken Jr., admission to Elton John's Oscar party, a private meal prepared by renowned chef Mario Batali and a visit with Muhammad Ali. "We thought of the idea for an auction two years ago, but we never imagined that it would evolve into something as huge as this," says Karen, the daughter of former Notre Dame basketball coach and ESPN commentator Digger Phelps. "You don't know what's possible until you ask; so we asked a lot of people, and they just said yes."
Moyer will attend the Dream Catchers event in Seattle just days before he reports to spring training in Peoria, Ariz. Seattle's best starter a year ago in terms of wins (13), innings pitched (200) and ERA (4.28), Moyer has yet to consider retirement--he has won 171 games and made close to $50 million in salary since turning around his career 12 years ago--and has already told Karen he'll be back in '07. "I'm looking forward to spring training this year as much as I ever have," says Moyer, who signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal to remain with the Mariners this season. "I'm not ready to retire, but baseball's going to end sometime. Helping children will never end. It's nice knowing I have a second career waiting for me when I leave the game."
Still Going Strong
Jamie Moyer has
pitched 617 innings since turning 40 before the 2003 season; the only
lefthanders to throw more after their 40th birthdays were Warren Spahn (1,153)
and Tommy John (950 2/3). The Seattle southpaw is also one of only six
pitchers--and the only one older than 32--to have thrown 200 or more innings in
each of the last five seasons.