PORT CHARLOTTE — Reliever Adam Russell is one of the bigger Rays in the clubhouse, with a 6-foot-8, 255-pound frame fitting for his hard-throwing style on the mound.
And come April, he hopes his main task is getting the bigger outs as part of the revamped bullpen.
But this past offseason, Russell, 27, held a less glamorous but much more important job.
"He was my manny," said older sister Tracy Galvin, 35. "My man-nanny."
With Tracy diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, Russell spent the winter back home in Cleveland, helping care for her two kids, Fiona, 4, and Tommy, 1, as she had chemotherapy treatments and her husband, Marty, worked at his law office. Baseball took a backseat to ballet as Russell often shuttled Fiona to her dance classes, standing out among the stay-at-home moms.
That sight didn't seem strange to those who know Russell, considering the bearded right-hander — who is built like an offensive lineman — plans to help advocate for an anti-bully association.
"He's got absolutely the biggest heart," Tracy said. "I don't know how I would have done this without him."
Tracy's fight is far from over. With her cancer in the most advanced stage and spread to her liver, Russell said she "needs a miracle." But the family isn't giving up, deriving strength from each other. Russell's grandmother, Arlene, has breast cancer. His other sister (and next-door-neighbor) Lindsay, 31, recently elected to have a double mastectomy because she, like Tracy, had a gene mutation that gave her an 87 percent chance of getting breast cancer.
Russell, acquired from the Padres in the offseason Jason Bartlett trade, wants to spread awareness and start a foundation but understands that considering he has pitched in just 47 games in the major leagues over seven pro seasons, he'll need some more big-league time to generate more revenue for it.
And Tracy provides inspiration for every pitch he makes.
"She's the real hero," Russell said. "People that can do a 360-dunk or hit a 500-foot home run, that's nothing compared to raising kids when you have Stage 4 cancer. That's impressive stuff."
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Of all the calls Tracy made when she was first diagnosed in August, she said the one to her brother was "probably the worst."
"I knew he'd want to get on a plane and come home," Tracy said. "But this is going to be a long road."
So has Russell's pro career, having made several minor-league stops in the White Sox and Padres organizations after getting drafted out of Ohio University. While Russell was struggling after bouncing between the Padres and Triple-A Portland last season, his sister's news gave him much-needed perspective. That's why even though Russell has had some rough outings this spring (6.75 ERA), he doesn't tell Tracy about the so-called "bad days."
"I was starting to flounder a little bit in Triple A. I was like, 'You know what, this is not the attitude to be taking right now,' " Russell said. "What she's going through, she has a fantastic attitude. I turned myself around, took a long look in the mirror and was like, 'She's going through a lot worse. You can pull through this.' "
Tracy handles her situation with courage, blending the reality of the situation with optimism. Her latest scan provided great news, with chemotherapy decreasing the cancerous spots in her liver from five to one. She feels lucky for every day and blessed for all the support and medical care but knows where her priorities lie. On a recent night, after a long day of tests and appointments, she was at Target buying milk and groceries.
"It's first to be a mom and second as a cancer patient," she said. "It's kind of like having a job; it's not a job you want, but you have to deal with the hand you're dealt and do the best you can."
So Tracy plans to come back to Florida with her family in mid April on a vacation sponsored by "Memories of Love," a nonprofit that provides enjoyable trips for children of parents with life-threatening illnesses. They will go to Disney World with Fiona and Tommy, who loved when their uncle, Adam, dressed up as the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz two Halloweens ago. And they hope to attend Rays games at Tropicana Field, where they can watch Evan Longoria, Manny Ramirez and, of course, Russell.
As Russell jokes, "We have two Manny's in this clubhouse."
And Tracy will never mind her manny being manny.