Rouse reflects on odyssey during season of thanks
Leukemia survivor, fan attended all 162 Brewers games to raise awareness
MILWAUKEE -- Ben Rouse has a lot to be thankful for this week. The 25-year-old leukemia survivor and Brewers super-fan attended all 162 games in 2012, raising awareness along the way for the Be the Match Foundation, which helps patients who need a bone marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant find a donor and receive treatment.
With some financial and ticketing help from the Brewers, Rouse traveled 42,688 miles by plane, car, bus and train to see every inning. He slept on beds, couches, air mattresses and futons. Ate 100 ballpark sausages. Survived two fender-benders. Threw ceremonial first pitches in Miami at a brand-new ballpark and at Miller Park on the three-year anniversary of being cancer-free. Met Teddy from the Nationals Park presidents' race. Slid down Bernie Brewer's slide. Made the pages of Sports Illustrated.
He even got the girl.
Rouse proposed to his girlfriend, Victoria Oleson, in November.
"A lot of it was just the challenge of trying to do it," Rouse said of his summer-long quest. "I went to 43 games in '06, went to seven different parks, and that's when I started to think it was possible. Then came college and I set it aside."
The idea returned to his mind in 2009, when Rouse underwent a double umbilical cord stem cell transplant after a relapse of the cancer that first struck in 2007. Doctors' first choice had been a bone marrow transplant, a search that introduced Rouse to the Be the Match Foundation, which operates a registry of potential donors now 9.5 million strong.
Rouse's own experience reinforced the need to grow that registry, so he put his two ideas together: Fulfill a personal dream by attending all 162 games, and use his journey to raise awareness of Be the Match at Miller Park and points throughout Major League Baseball.
Rouse was already a Brewers season seat-holder, but the club backed his effort by upgrading his two 20-game plans to full seasons, and provided tickets to all 81 road games plus Brewers apparel and a per diem to help with expenses. Rouse quit his job at Madison engineering and consulting firm Tetra Tech -- which supported his cause -- and enlisted help from family and friends around the country with a spare bed or free couch. He printed placards numbered one to 162 for a photo before every game, and beginning with the Brewers' Opening Day loss to the Cardinals, Rouse went to work.
He became a vocal advocate of the national bone marrow registry through countless radio, television and print appearances throughout the season. When he was not on the air, Rouse decided to canvas stadium parking lots, handing out cards and urging fans to register.
"It was surprising how few people were aware that there is even a Be the Match registry," Rouse said. "I always start by asking them if they've heard about the guy doing all 162, just to gauge whether they are even aware. Not even 5 percent were aware. So that was the starting point. It's been good to see people's reaction."
Yes, it was a fun summer.
It was also a lot of work.
"I'm busier now than I was when I had a full-time job," he said before a game in Pittsburgh in September.
That's because Rouse meticulously chronicled his quest on an MLBlog, "Brewers Mission 162," writing about his travels and the games, posting photographs and tracking everything from his mileage to his sausage consumption.
He even charted pitches. Of the 48,444 pitches thrown in those 162 games, Rouse had his eyeballs trained on the mound for all but 110.
That's a .998 batting average.
The Brewers even cooperated by turning around what was turning into a dismal season.
"Their surge definitely made it more exciting for me," Rouse said. "I kind of got down after they lost 10 straight road games, driving 15 hours back from Philadelphia after seeing six straight losses [in late July]. Every fan loves to be at wins instead of losses, but you know from the get-go you're going to see the team lose. It gets worse when you're 13 games under .500."
So Rouse was particularly pleased when the Brewers made their late run into contention. On Oct. 2, the three-year anniversary of his surgery, Rouse threw the ceremonial first pitch at Miller Park. Ryan Braun, whose parents had befriended Rouse back in May, served as his catcher.
"There were times I said, 'If it wasn't for the Be the Match aspect, I would quit this,'" said Rouse. "But I was never serious about that. A lot of people dream about doing something like this."
"It's all downhill from here," Rouse said. "But I told people all year, 25 is a better age to do this than 65. I'm definitely glad I did it this year."