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Tampa sports agent takes charitable cause to new heights

B.B. Abbott will climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds and awareness for pediatric cancer groups.

Public service announcement: The guy walking around the tony South Tampa neighborhood late at night wearing hiking boots, a backpack and a black rubber mask over his nose and mouth isn’t up to nefarious deeds.

That’s just longtime Tampa-based sports agent B.B. Abbott preparing for his latest, grandest and wildest adventure yet, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money and awareness for pediatric cancer charities.

“It’s just something that became a bucket list item for me," said Abbott, who is in his 40s. “The older I get, the more I like to challenge myself. And I’m certainly doing that with this."

The idea to spend a week in the frigid cold, ascending 19,000-plus feet to the top of world’s highest free-standing mountain, came first from Abbott’s travel agent friend, then became a personal mission and an altruistic endeavor.

Abbott’s goal is to raise $100,000 for the Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research and National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, and pledges have already surpassed $85,000. To donate, go here.

Abbott has a bit of an adventurous side, with previous trips including a safari in Tanzania and explorations of Machu Picchu and Patagonia.

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The Kilimanjaro trek certainly qualifies, as Abbott and two buddies, assisted by trained guides, will spend seven days next month working their way up the mountain, battling sub-zero temperatures, fatigue from the extensive climb and the risk of debilitating altitude sickness.

“The big thing for me is going to be the grind of camping, and getting up every day and doing it over and over," Abbott said. “... And hopefully not getting that altitude sickness which really gets most people."

Abbott sees the climb as his version of the high-stakes competition his clients have on the baseball field.

After attending Rollins and Florida State, graduating from Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport in 1994 and working a few years for the Foley & Lardner firm in Tampa, Abbott started as an agent representing childhood buddy Chipper Jones. He has built a Jet Sports Management roster that now includes stars such as Corey Kluber and Chris Sale, and Rays Charlie Morton, Mike Zunino and prospect Brent Honeywell.

Before climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, B.B. Abbott trains, like on this side trip to Colorado. [ B.B. ABBOTT | Special to the Times ]

Several, naturally, questioned his sanity when hearing of his latest plan, though Honeywell said there’s “no doubt” if Abbott is determined that he’ll make it.

“It’s good to do stuff like this," Abbott said. “Those guys have the grind of the season and getting prepared for that. The competition, you starve for that sometimes. We get that in arbitration and negotiations and whatnot. It’s really just the physical challenge more than anything. It’s really just putting yourself to the test and seeing what you’re made of more than anything. … Listen, if I don’t get altitude sickness, I’m going to make it."

Training while living in Tampa, and working on contracts and arbitration negotiations has been tough.

Abbott made a side trip during a work visit to Colorado in September to climb a 13,000-foot mountain, but lately has been limited to wearing his gear for walks through the neighborhood and hiking Tampa Bay area bridges.

“You can stay in good health, be active and try to work out, but you can’t prepare in Florida for what’s going to happen," Abbott said. “They tell you there’s a physical component to it, but there’s a very big mental component to it as well.

“I can put this (training) mask on anytime I want and walk around and it’s very difficult to breathe, but I can’t duplicate the cold, the wind, the camping out for five straight nights, getting up at midnight on summit night and hiking 16 hours in one day. You just can’t replicate that.

“It’s going to have to be one of those things, you’re just in it and you have to grind through it. Which is another reason I decided to do this for charity because it’s motivating the hell out of me to get up and do this work."

Abbott has long been involved in pediatric cancer causes. He started by attending charity fishing tournaments hosted by original Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar, then got more personally involved about 10 years ago when one of his players, Brian McCann, became a spokesman for Rally while in Atlanta. Abbott, who has no kids of his own, now sits on boards for both groups.

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“It’s just a cause that touched me," Abbott said. “With all of our players having young kids, it’s hard not to be deeply involved once you attend a couple of these events and meet some of these kids and families. It touches an area inside of you that you just can’t fathom."

Abbott will have flags from both organizations with him, planning to symbolically plant them when he reaches the summit around Feb. 18.

“When I carry those flags up for me for those two groups — you hear the stories that they have of the spinal taps and the blood transfusions and chemo and radiation — I’m going to look at those flags and say this is nothing, even though inside I’ll be dying."

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.