CINCINNATI -- With Spring Training underway and Opening Day approaching, it's not unusual for Reds fans to visit Great American Ball Park to purchase tickets or to go to the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum. But fans who gathered here on a cool, damp Friday morning did so for a purpose bigger than baseball. They were helping to save a friend's life.
Reds season sales manager Chris Herrell was recently diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), a rare form of blood cancer for which there is no cure, aside from a bone marrow transplant which requires an exact tissue match from a donor.
On Friday, potential tissue donors, ages 18 to 44, were encouraged to come to the Reds Hall of Fame from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., where they filled out a brief questionnaire with personal information and medical history. Donors then swabbed their cheeks and dropped the swabs in an envelope for testing.
Within the first hour of Friday's drive, nearly 100 potential donors had streamed through the Hall of Fame's doors. The outpouring of support from the Reds and the local community has been both comforting and a welcome distraction for Herrell and his wife, Laurie.
"It's been amazing," said Laurie, who's been married to Herrell for 15 years. "From [Reds COO] Phil Castellini to Chris' co-workers, they've brought food and groceries to the house. They've done everything possible to keep Chris as much a part of the organization as possible."
Herrell, 39, and Laurie have three children: Chase (8), Rickson (2), and Alani, an infant who was adopted in September 2012 shortly before Herrell became sick. He has worked with the Reds organization for 15 years.
"We're a family," said Reds premium sales manager Ryan Rizzo, who helped greet potential donors on Friday. "We work a lot of hours together during the season. We have become an extension of each other's family."
While the statistical probability of finding an exact match for Herrell on Friday was low, it didn't diminish the importance of Friday's donor drive, which could add a substantial number of potential donors to the registry.
"We know that a match for Chris might not come out of this [today]," Laurie said. "But maybe we can give someone else some hope."
Chris did not attend Friday's donor drive at the Reds Hall of Fame. But he was there in the spirit of his friends, co-workers and well-wishers.
"To know him is to know how great of a guy he is," said Herrell's long-time friend Tony Bucher. "He's a big part of the Reds family. It's wonderful what the Reds are doing. They've really supported him."
Scott Thompson, a former Reds scoreboard operator and resident of Villa Hills, Ky., didn't hesitate to become a potential donor when he heard about Friday's drive.
"I thought it was a chance to help someone out, so why not?" he said. "The rarity of a match is mind-boggling. I was astonished. I came here to help Chris, but maybe it will help another family."
An additional tissue donor drive is scheduled for Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET at Pattison Elementary School in Milford, Ohio, about 20 minutes east of downtown Cincinnati. Potential donors can also register online at www.bethematch.org and use promo code REDS03MATCH.
"It will be sad when the drives are over," said Laurie. "It's given us something to focus on."
Jeff Wallner is a contributor to MLB.com.