Chase Jones was an 18-year-old freshman catcher for the University of North Carolina back in the fall of 2006. That was when he got diagnosed with Stage 4 brain cancer that had spread down his spinal cord.
"It just crushed me," Jones says. "I'd put all my stock in my body, and that showed me how that was a mistake, because when something is off, it totally racks you."
As Jones fought and went through treatment and lost his hair to chemotherapy, his teammates shaved their heads in support. Jones, racked as he was, responded fantastically. Brain surgery, rounds upon rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments and six months later, Jones had made it. His cancer vanished, remarkably, by March 2007. From then through the spring of 2011, he played.
And now, Jones spends most of his time getting teams around the country to help kids the way his team helped him.
"The things I really found when I was going through my treatment was A, there were so many kids affected by this," says Jones. "And B, the kind of impact college baseball players could have in the lives of kids fighting cancer. When my teammates visited me and then when we visited the children’s hospital later, the kids' faces would just light up. When I was there, it meant a lot to have my teammates by my side. So I saw this niche where baseball players could really do a lot."
Jones in 2009 started BaseBald for the Cure, asking his Tar Heel teammates and coaches to shave their heads again to raise money to fight childhood cancer. Of course, he had to get head coach Mike Fox's permission first, and then he had to convince the guys.
"But I mean, it's pretty easy for me to guilt trip people," Jones says, laughing. "It's an easy sell when I tell people everything I went through."
For the first drive in 2009, one Tar Heel shaved his head for every $100 donated to the UNC Lineberger Cancer Center. They raised $6,400. In 2010, they raised $15,000.
Now, in his first without baseball in his life, Jones has taken his fight beyond Chapel Hill. After he graduated in May 2011, Jones approached the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which is based in Los Angeles and which also paid for two of Jones' own doctors, with the idea of taking it national. He knew they shaved heads and did cancer research fundraising. They hired him full-time as their Baseball Program and Family Relations Coordinator.
"It's obviously an amazing job," Jones says.
Not that it's easy. The guy is always on the road. That last quote? When he said it, he was in his car, on his cell phone. He's hit multiple schools in as many as three states in one day. "But it's better than brain cancer."
Jones, who, by the way, lives his mission to the full, keeping his head shaved, too — goes to the teams and he tells them his story. He tells them how hard cancer is and how painful its treatment -- the surgery, the chemo, the radiation -- can be. And so far, he's recruited nearly two dozen teams, everyone from tiny Division III colleges to his own past college rivals to the Cleveland Indians.
"And the toughest thing I had to do," Jones tells them, "was take those treatments next to kids. Because everything I had done growing up, everything I'd experienced being 18, they hadn't gotten to do. But the fact that I'm still here shows that people can make a difference."
Jones got started in September, laying the groundwork for his goals for 2012: raise $100,000 and get 500 ballplayers to shave their heads. He’s well on his way. As of Tuesday this week, Jones and BaseBald had raised more than $37,000 and scored 233 head shaves.
Carolina is on board, of course, as well as Atlantic Coast Conference opponent Georgia Tech and longtime rival North Carolina State.
State has gone so far as to create a huge promotional event for when they play fellow ACC and in-state foe Wake Forest on St. Patrick’s Day. Both teams will shave their heads pregame, and State will be wearing green jerseys that will get auctioned off postgame to raise even more money for BaseBald. Whoever wins a jersey can choose the name of a cancer victim to put on the back.
"Graduating from UNC, I can't tell you how much it means for [State] to pick this up and run with it," Jones says. "And then, look at everyone else. I don't know if you could call it a phenomenon yet or anything like that, but the support so far has just really blown me away."
Putting all one's stock in the body -- yeah, it can leave you racked. But putting stock in others? At least for Jones, it works. So every day, he’s in the car, on the road, alive and bald and with a story to tell.
Brandon Sneed is the editor-in-chief of HeyGoodCall.com, which covers people in sports who make the world better. He is also the author of The Edge of Legend. Follow him on Twitter at @brandonsneed and follow HGC at @HeyGoodCall and on Facebook.
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