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Tigers step up for Stand Up To Cancer auction

DETROIT -- The Tigers were directly affected by cancer last offseason when then-coach Rafael Belliard underwent prostate surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. They've followed radio broadcaster Jim Price's efforts up close over the last couple years as he rebounds from a second bout of cancer.

Now, they're supporting the Stand Up To Cancer effort with a pair of game packages up for auction to help raise money.

Baseball's Winter Meetings this week include an Auction to benefit Stand Up To Cancer, which MLB has supported since 2008 as founding sponsor. Public relations representatives from all 30 clubs were inspired to act based on individual club members impacted by the disease, and they jointly organized the auction, which will be officially announced at a news conference on Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., with MLB staff.

Bidding closes at 10 p.m. ET on Thursday with 80 baseball-related experiences ranging from private pitching and batting lessons with players to lunches with general managers to team bus rides and meet-and-greets with Hall of Fame players.

The Tigers will do their part with a pair of unique ballpark experiences. The highlight is the MVP Package, which will put the winner front and center for a game at Comerica Park. The package starts with autographed baseballs from Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, then throws in four tickets to a mutually agreed upon Tigers home game in April or May of next season. The winner also gets the opportunity to throw out a ceremonial first pitch before the game.

In addition, the Tigers are offering a Grand Slam Package, which offers up four tickets to the May 5 series opener against the Astros at Comerica Park, where all four fans will get to watch pregame batting practice from the field and enjoy dinner in the Tiger Club.

The proceeds raised through the auction will go towards the effort to fight a disease that has affected too many people around the Tigers the last couple years.

"I don't think anybody has gone through life without knowing somebody who has gone through prostate or breast cancer," Tigers catcher Alex Avila said this past season, having dealt with prostate cancer in his family. "It happens every day. The reality of our world today is cancer has affected a lot people's lives. …

"The thing is, Raffy wasn't going to let something like that affect him."

A year ago at this point, Belliard was getting ready for a vacation with his wife in China, unaware that a dreadful diagnosis was awaiting him when he returned home after the New Year. An anomaly from his end-of-season physical in 2012 revealed a cause for concern, but it was early enough to save his life.

He didn't feel run down, and he didn't feel any reason for concern, but the mass that doctors had found was enough of a worry that he didn't want to risk it. Had he waited after this season to have the surgery, it turned out, it might well have been too late.

"If I had waited, it would have spread all over my body," Belliard said.

Instead, after learning the biopsy results in mid-January, he underwent surgery just before Spring Training. His quick decision increased his chances of survival to 95 percent. A midseason checkup showed no signs of cancer. It's the best outcome he could have possibly hoped to hear.

"It's important to get checked," Belliard said. "Some people don't like to go to the doctor."

The message of early detection is vital, and Belliard is living proof. The hope is that with more research, better treatment can improve the odds for everyone.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.
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