When the Columbia Blowfish step away from their Coastal Plain League season and host a group of former South Carolina baseball alumni Wednesday night in the seventh annual rendition of the exhibition, it will be for a special cause.
Former USC great and major league player Landon Powell will participate for the first time, and the game will be held in conjunction with a silent auction to help the Powell family, who lost their five-month old daughter Izzy to a rare autoimmune disease in January, try and offset the medical expenses that mounted during her illness. The bills have reached into the millions of dollars and it’s still unknown how much insurance will pay.
Powell recently was given his release by the New York Mets in a move that was mutually agreed upon by all parties involved. After spending a decade chasing his dream of playing in the major leagues — which he did for three seasons as a backup catcher for the Oakland Athletics — Powell was ready to step away from the game. He wanted to spend time with his family — wife Allyson, four-year old son Holden and Izzy’s twin, Ellie — and try and rebuild the family foundation that was strained during the five-month struggle during Izzy’s battle.
“I’ve enjoyed being home the last two weeks and starting that next stage in life,” Powell said. “It was time to be with my family after everything we went through with my daughter. It’s a time to recover and become a family again and not be away from my kids. There are more important things than playing pro ball and paying bills by doing it. It’s about being home with my kids and not missing days with them. I realize how valuable that is now.”
Powell is humbled by how his former teammates and peers have rallied around his cause. Trey Dyson, the de facto manager of the USC alumni team and a former teammate of Powell’s, was instrumental in putting this fundraiser together. Once he realized that Powell was going to be able to play in the game, he contacted Blowfish president Bill Shanahan and the two agreed this was a great platform to be able to help a former teammate.
“Dyson said they were going to raise some money for me and my family, and asked if I was OK with that.,” Powell said. “I told him that was really great of those guys. It’s hard for me as a peer and a former teammate with a lot of those guys to want help from them or to seek help. We do have a ton of medical bills for everything my daughter went through.”
“No matter how much money you make in life or professional baseball or whatever career you pick, hospital medical bills can cripple anybody. We’re OK, I think, but there is a lot of unknown right now of how much the insurance company is going to cover. We’re very grateful for everyone out there that has been willing to help out financially. Whatever is donated will go directly for Izzy’s life for her medical bills. If there is any left after the bills are paid, all that excess money will go to a charity in Izzy’s name or honor.”
Dyson knew this is something he wanted to pursue. Being able to tie it in with USC alumni made it even more special in his mind.
“We’re doing this game for a special cause in Izzy Powell, Landon’s little girl who lost her life to a tragic disease,” Dyson said. “It’s Gamecocks helping out other Gamecocks, that’s what we’re going to try and do. We hope to raise a lot of money for Landon’s family in honor of Izzy.”
The Blowfish have donated $1,000 and BB&T, Dyson’s place of employment, will donate $500.
The story of Izzy’s courageous fight has been well documented. The ESPN news show E:60 aired a 15-minute segment about two months ago telling the nation the Powells’ heartbreaking story. There was a Facebook page created during Izzy’s illness that chronicled her diagnosis and struggle.
She suffered from hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, a condition in which white blood cells can build up in an organ and destroy other blood cells. There were swings of hope and despair during her fight. She endured 70 blood transfusions, 14 surgeries and eight weeks of chemotherapy.
The fight finally ended on January 25. Since that time, Powell and his family have gone through the natural progression of losing a child.
“We’re still grieving and recovering,” Powell said. “When you lose a child, especially at a young age and one that is a twin, you have good days and bad days. Ellie is 10-months old now, and to see her grow and smile and giggle and show personality is an awesome thing and sometimes it’s a very hard thing. You wonder what Izzy would be like and what she would be doing. It makes you not want to miss a minute with your other kids and makes you realize how precious life is. Tomorrow is never guaranteed and God has a plan. He’s drawn up everyone’s stories and we’re just living out the chapters He’s written. Hopefully, there is a lot of happiness in the end.”
Powell, who lives in Greenville, is still deciding on his next career move. He has entertained thoughts of getting into the coaching profession. He’s also had several opportunities open up in the business world but he is still undecided what the future will hold.
All he knows is what he is looking forward to in the near future.
“We’re trying to make the most out of time with our family right now. It’s great to have the support of so many friends and family. I’m fortunate to live in the great state of South Carolina and a community like the Gamecock community that has been more than willing to help us.”