Inspirational. Awe-inspiring. Storybook. Those are just some of the words one might use to describe UC alum and Bearcat baseball standout Tony Campana’s rise to the big leagues. But even those lofty adjectives may not fully do his story justice.
Growing up in Kettering, Ohio, near Dayton, Tony was like any other kid. He loved sports, especially baseball, and frequented Reds games at Riverfront Stadium with his family (though he was a Cleveland Indians fan at heart). But at the young age of 7, Tony was dealt a curve ball – when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The chilling diagnosis required immediate surgery to remove a tumor, followed by eight months of intense chemotherapy. Campana has said that he sometimes pulled out clumps of hair to entertain friends and really had no idea how dire the situation was. But thankfully, after ten years of checkups and tests, doctors were confident the disease was in remission and considered him fully cured.
|Tony stands at second base after his |
first major league hit against the
Reds at Great American Ball Park.
That wasn’t the only hurdle Tony had to overcome on his way to the top. His small, wiry frame and focus on speed and defense was a stark contrast to the trend in the big leagues – as sluggers like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds re-wrote the record books and fed fans’ love of the longball.
In fact, Tony’s high school coach wasn’t sure he would land on a college team; but he ended up finding a home down the road at the University of Cincinnati. During his time as a Bearcat, Tony honed his game and demonstrated the value of speed and strong defense, breaking UC’s all-time single-season record for stolen bases with 70 in 2007 and establishing a new record for career steals with 104.
He was a BIG EAST first team selection during his senior season in 2008 and showed enough promise to be drafted by the Chicago Cubs. After playing in the minor leagues for nearly four years, Tony got the call all minor leaguers dream of: he was finally going to play for the Cubs, and even better, he was going to make his Major League debut against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.
|Campana is congratulated by |
teammates after getting his first
career home run.
Tony had his own fan club amassed behind the Cubs’ dugout that night, and was even picked up from the airport by his mother. He also had to turn off his cell phone because he was getting so many calls wishing him good luck.
After entering the game as a pinch runner in the 7th, Tony stepped up to the plate in the 8th inning. Though he thought he’d be nervous, he locked in and smashed an RBI-double for his first major league hit, putting the Cubs ahead in the game and sending his fan section into hysterics.
Even though the Cubs ended up losing the game, Tony had a moment he’ll never forget. And Tony has since gotten revenge on the Reds, roping a line-drive to the wall in Wrigley Field that turned out to be his first Major League home run – inside-the-park of course – and the difference in the game as the Cubs beat the Reds 4-3 on August 5.
So even though many Reds fans consider it treason to root for the Cubs (they are in the same division after all), don’t be surprised to see more Cubs jerseys around Cincinnati as Campana continues to defy the odds and establish himself as a rising star. And hopefully, UC alumni in Chicago will cheer extra loud for a fellow alum whose grit, determination and perseverance makes us all Proudly Cincinnati.