GREENVILLE — Landon Powell stood in the outfield Sunday afternoon at Fluor Field as young kids gathered in the stands for the start of a baseball clinic.
As he surveyed the gorgeous day around him, Powell was preparing to help others even as he stands at a crossroads in his own life.
Hosting his third Donors on the Diamond, an annual event that raises awareness for organ and tissue donations through Donate Life South Carolina, Powell easily could have stepped away from participating.
His daughter, Izzy, was born last month with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), a life-threatening blood disorder that will require her to have a bone marrow transplant when she weighs enough to withstand the operation. He and wife Allyson have spent much of the past month in a Cincinnati hospital, where the 4-pound Izzy is battling the disease.
But the 30-year-old Powell, a former All-America catcher at USC (2001-04) who’s still playing professionally, felt that he couldn’t skip Donors on the Diamond, which he started because his own liver disease could force him to get a liver transplant in the future.
“To me, that wasn’t an option,” Powell said. “We’ll do it in her honor, and hopefully Izzy will be well enough in the future that she can come out one year.”
Powell’s dedication to their family — son Holden, 3, Izzy, and Izzy’s twin sister, Ellie, who’s perfectly healthy — remains the top priority, but he has witnessed the importance of organ and tissue donation over the past three years. Currently, 115,000 people are awaiting life-saving transplants in the U.S.
“This event is designed to help them and raise awareness about them,” Powell said. “As a healthy human being, you have the ability to sign up to be an organ donor. If something negative was to happen in your life, you could save up to eight lives by being an organ donor. We already know how to fix the problems. We just need to get people to sign up to be donors.”
Powell began the day with a clinic for 50 youngsters at Fluor Field, home of the Single-A South Atlantic League affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. He was helped by high school and professional players, including former USC ace Michael Roth, now a pitcher in the Los Angeles Angels organization.
Roth was glad to help another Gamecock, although they never were teammates.
“He’s in the Carolina baseball family, and whenever you can help out someone, you try to do what you can,” said Roth, who’s an organ donor. “I watched him play when I was younger. They were in the College World Series, and obviously we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what we did without the guys before us like Landon.”
The clinic was set to be followed by a charity dinner and auction featuring former major league pitcher Tommy John. USC athletics director Ray Tanner and Gamecocks baseball coach Chad Holbrook also participated.
“That’s a family at South Carolina that will always stick close together,” Powell said. “Coach Tanner is a big part of my event, and he helps make this thing tick.”
Better than anyone, Powell understands the importance of a support system in times of medical need. His liver condition has stabilized through treatment and medicine, although he still gets checked out by his doctors every six weeks.
“Hopefully, I’m prolonging that point when I might need a liver transplant,” he said. “I might never need one, but I might need one 20 or 30 years from now. As long as I keep responding to the medicine, I should be in good shape.”
After spending the 2009 through 2011 seasons in the major leagues with the Oakland A’s, Powell spent last season with Oklahoma City, the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros. He expects to be a free agent at the conclusion of the World Series and hopes to make it back to the big leagues.
Forgive him, however, if he has other things on his mind right now.
“I’d love to keep playing, but right now that’s not on my priority list. I’ve got a family and a sick girl to worry about,” he said. “Baseball is something I’ve always been able to do, and one day I won’t get to do it anymore. Right now, I’m a father and a husband first. I’ll be ready come February if baseball calls. Hopefully it will, because I love playing.”