By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Ben Rouse’s dream of going to all 162 Brewers games in a season began in high school.
“My baseball team took a trip to Miller Park when I was a freshman in high school. I think that game got me hooked. Then when I could drive, I started going to more games. I went to 43 in 2006, including 14 away games,” Rouse said.
But 43 games is a lot fewer than 162. There are a lot of things that can get in a way of a dream like that. Money, school, work, all make it difficult to put life on hold for baseball. “That’s something you do when you retire, or win the lottery,” he said.
For Ben, leukemia got in the way.
Rouse was at “Brewers On-Deck” on April 1st, 2007, an event that the Brewers held before opening day. “I attended the event and spent some time chasing baseballs in the right field loge bleachers, which Prince [Fielder] was littering with home runs spent some time chasing baseballs in the right field loge bleachers,” he said. He cut his leg that day, and didn’t think much of it.
When the cut became an infection, and the infection lead to a fever of over 105, Rouse went to the doctor. They ran some tests, and he was told he had Promyelocytic Leukemia, or APML, which is why he was having so much trouble healing from the infection.
“Shock,” is what Rouse said he felt when the doctor told him he had leukemia. “I think my mom was in the room and she started crying. But I just sat there, and after a little while I realized that you can’t do anything about it, so might as well just do what the doctor orders, and get the chemo, and hope for the best.”
At 20 years-old, and still a full time student, Rouse was in for the fight of his life.
After a year, and 100 days of Arsenic Trioxide treatments, Rouse went into remission. Most patients need only 45 days of the treatments, but Ben’s body was more stubborn. “I got over 300 Arsenic Trioxide treatments, which I think sets a world record,” he said.
But a year later, he relapsed, and had to look for a donor for a bone marrow transplant. “We looked in the registry, I think at the time there was about 16 or 17 million people in the worldwide registry, and there wasn’t a single match for me.”
Rouse never did find a match in the bone marrow registry. After an exhaustive search, they found a match for a double umbilical cord stem cell transplant in October of 2009, and Rouse underwent a successful procedure.
He won the fight with cancer, now it was on to baseball. A lot of baseball. A whole season’s worth.
While Rouse is fulfilling his dream of attending all 162 Milwaukee Brewers games, he’s blogging about it (visit Ben’s website) and raising awareness and funds for Be The Match (visit their website), a website that helps people register to become possible donors, and helps patients find suitable bone marrow donors.
Rouse had to save a lot of money, $15,000 to be exact, to make his journey possible, but the Brewers have decided to help out as well. “They upgraded my 20 game pack to a full-season package,” he said. “They provided tickets to away games, a per diem and licensed apparel as well.” Rouse says he’ll pay about $9,000 of his own money for the journey.
Driving to each game can be a grind, but Rouse says his commitment to Be The Match makes it all worth it. “I’ve raised about $3,000 which pays for about 30 people to join the registry. I’ve also gotten countless people to become aware. The thing is, a lot of people don’t even know that there’s a bone marrow donor registry.”
Rouse says even though he’s just over halfway finished, he’s got some amazing memories of his joinery so far, including getting a hug from Brewers reigning MVP Ryan Braun after a home run, and sitting with Braun’s parents in seats behind home plate in Los Angeles. “Scott Boras was ten feet to my right, and they swept the Dodgers that game. So that was probably the highlight of the season so far,” he said.
He’s in Philadelphia for the Brewers three-game series with the Phillies, and was treated to a ninth-inning collapse Monday night. “Yeah, that was not too fun, but that’s how baseball goes sometimes,” he said. “They’ve blown quite a few late game leads. I say I shave my head so I can’t pull my hair out anymore.” The Brewers are 44-51 and eight games out of first place. Many have told him he should have done this last year, when the team was better. “I can’t decide when they’re going to be good and going to be bad,” he said.
Listen to the entire interview here: