Reaching Out with Both Arms
Aug 26, 2019 11:32AM
By Chris Hatch
Ask former Husker standout Brian Duensing about transition—he’ll tell you about it.
He’s doing some of his own, right now.
Duensing is back in his home state, keeping that million dollar left arm—the one that’s seen surgeries and strikeouts and felt the dull ache of time seeping into the medically repaired tendons—ready to reach for the phone. The longtime professional baseball player was granted his release from the Chicago Cubs this spring, spending part of the 2019 season in Des Moines with their AAA team before opting out of that contract.
“It just wasn’t working out,” he says.
He’s trying to catch on somewhere else; make one final push before dusk settles on decades of pitching. “If it doesn’t work out then it was a great run. I never thought I would play college baseball, let alone professional baseball. So this has all been icing on the cake.”
Duensing may be waiting, but he’s hardly standing still. Not when he can take that rocket-fueled arm and use it to reach out.
You see, people like Duensing are from here. With all that polite, but emphatic, inflection that means so much in Nebraska.
The Millard South graduate has pitched for the Minnesota Twins, Baltimore Orioles, Cubs, Team U.S.A. at the 2008 Olympics in China, and at nearly every stop in the Midwest with a mound and four bases, but he never stopped coming back. His love of Nebraska is one reason why he started a charity in his home state of 1.9 million people.
The Brian Duensing Foundation has donated nearly $400,000 to local charities since 2015, focusing primarily on pediatric cancer and other serious childhood illnesses. And like the man who gives the foundation its name, the idea to start the foundation had humble beginnings—an old T-shirt, a wife with a passion, and inspiration hanging at the back of the closet.
“I pulled a ‘Team Jack’ shirt off a hanger, getting ready to ship home some stuff from Minnesota,” he says, referring to the foundation that was started because of Jack Hoffman, a young Nebraska Husker fan battling brain cancer. “My wife Lisa said to me, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if you could wear T-shirts of different kids dealing with pediatric cancer?’ I sent out a Tweet, thinking we would get a few here and there. What actually happened was that I received more T-shirts than there are days of the month in September.”
Thus he wore a T-shirt from a different organization for 30 days, photographed himself wearing them, and posted the photos to his social media. Duensing gave each organization $500 and innumerable amounts of awareness.
Duensing was inundated with people looking to raise awareness, find someone who cared like they did, or help find a few dollars to fight this battle. He continued the T-shirt campaign for several years.
“It was bittersweet. In a way, it was cool to see how well social media can work but also sad that so many kids are affected by cancer.”
With more than a little help from the brains behind the operation and some willing friends, they’ve been making a difference.
“Lisa is definitely the brains and the muscle behind the ideas. [She] and I, and Traci Curtis, who runs the foundation, all usually brainstorm ideas. We try to think of things we have seen at other events we have attended and use those as inspiration.”
He also holds a variety of fundraisers, each one unique—whether it was raising money for Camp CoHoLo (Courage, Hope, Love) or mixing Manhattans behind the bar with fellow professional baseball player Alex Gordon at a black-tie affair. Duensing and his crew are always looking for innovative ways to give back.
They’re hosting the Reveal Gala on Nov. 15 to help shed light on the long-term effects of childhood cancer. The event will support the launch of a survivorship clinic at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha for those looking to transition from pediatric care to adult cancer care. The clinic will be available at Children’s to people up to age 21 who were treated for childhood cancer and who have been off therapy for at least two years.
Like the middle reliever he has been for so many years, Duensing wants to make the change from start to close easier for cancer survivors.
“As we spoke with some friends whose child has some complications from treatments, we learned about the new survivorship clinic being [created] at Children’s Hospital,” Duensing says. “The truth is, just because a child beats cancer doesn’t mean the fight stops. So this clinic will help with the next phases of their lives.”
Ask Brian Duensing about transition. He’ll tell you.
He wants to make it easier for young people, too.
Visit thebrianduensingfoundation.org for more information.This article was printed in the September 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.