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Fight to cure cystic fibrosis hits home for Brower

Mariners coach knows firsthand difficulties families face
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- When Jim Brower interviewed with the Mariners last winter for a coaching vacancy on Scott Servais' staff, something caught his eye as he was leaving Safeco Field. A flyer on the wall, promoting the club's annual Cystic Fibrosis Foundation golf tournament, jumped out like a beacon of light.

Though he hadn't yet been hired, Brower immediately called his wife, Jessica, and told her he was in the right place.

SEATTLE -- When Jim Brower interviewed with the Mariners last winter for a coaching vacancy on Scott Servais' staff, something caught his eye as he was leaving Safeco Field. A flyer on the wall, promoting the club's annual Cystic Fibrosis Foundation golf tournament, jumped out like a beacon of light.

Though he hadn't yet been hired, Brower immediately called his wife, Jessica, and told her he was in the right place.

Helping raise funds to find a cure for the difficult childhood disease has been part of the Mariners' fabric for decades. The club held its 33rd annual Cystic Fibrosis Mariners Care Golf Tournament on Monday at Broadmoor Golf Club. It's an event originally chartered by catcher Scott Bradley and then supported strongly by Jay Buhner, Randy Johnson, broadcaster Rick Rizzs and countless other players who have raised $5.9 million over the years.

But never has there been a better spokesperson for the event than Brower, whose daughter Landry was born with cystic fibrosis 10 years ago when he was pitching for the Yankees.

When the doctors told Brower how many years he could expect his daughter to live, that number was less than his own age at the time. The news was crushing.

"The first six months are a blur," he said. "It's a lot of crying, a lot of tears and a lot of unknown. There's no guarantees of tomorrow for anyone. But most parents don't talk to the doctor and hear a life expectancy when it comes to a child, right off the bat. So I'm like, 'Wait a second. You're telling me the story doesn't end well. Without a cure, this story doesn't end well.' And every parent can relate to that to some degree."

Brower and his wife have worked relentlessly to help Landy grow up as normally as possible. She goes to school in Minnesota, remains active, loves to swim and play like any youngster and accepts that her life comes with some medical challenges along the way.

But cystic fibrosis is a relentless disease, with the constant risk of infection and debilitating mucus buildup in the lungs and pancreas. In the 1950s, kids with CF rarely lived long enough to reach school age. By the 1980s, some were advancing into their teens. Medical research and new drugs have now helped extend the life expectancy into the 30s and 40s.

But there still is no cure, and the fight goes on for Brower and thousands of other parents living with that ticking clock.

"You can't dwell on it," Brower said. "That's a dark hole you can't get out of. So you do stay in the moment, you stay positive and you look around and see people with CF getting older and older. And it's not just the age thing. It's the quality of life that goes along with it. So you see that and it's amazing. It is uplifting. It's really humbling.

"You go to an event like this where people are donating, as a parent you see people giving up their time and money and it means everything. Nobody knows how powerful that is. It's really hard and it's an emotional thing. There are 100,000 kids with CF and it is affecting kids, and it's something with enough research I believe there is a cure in sight. We're getting there. We're not there yet. But we stay hopeful. You always do. But time does go quickly. All the sudden she's 10."

Landry was able to join Brower on the club's recent road trip to Tampa Bay, and he spent hours playing with her in the hotel pool before going to the park each day. She just finished her school year and joined him in Seattle this week, ready now to spend a first summer in the Pacific Northwest.

The baseball life is difficult, with long hours and endless days on the road. But for Brower, that is nothing compared to the fight he's leading at home. For he and too many other families, that reality overrides everything else. And so he's asking for help.

"The doctors told me, 'Jim, we keep gaining ground on this thing,'" he said. "Twenty years ago, it was like we were in a basketball arena with the lights out, and we were shooting at a hoop with no idea where it was going. Now the lights are on, we're at half court taking shots. We will get it. We will get it. But those basketballs are expensive."

Even those who don't participate in the golf event can donate through the CFF website at https://marinersgolf.eventscff.org.

"They're doing some really good things," Brower said. "It just takes time. And when you have a child with CF, time isn't my friend. My level of urgency always is piqued. And it goes into everything, whether it's coaching, life, I tend to appreciate the day and really kind of push. And that's what is needed sometimes."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

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