B’ville Red Sox fan pens book to benefit cancer research
By Ashley M. Casey
When Zachary Kalfass was 5 years old, he was diagnosed with a juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma — a rare, cancerous brain tumor. He underwent three brain surgeries, but the tumors recurred twice, when Zachary was 6 and again at age 14. While Zachary endured 60-week regimens of chemotherapy, his family suffered the stress and agony alongside him.
During those difficult years, there was one surefire way to ease the Kalfass family’s pain: watching America’s pastime with Fenway and Hooper, the family’s two Boston terriers.
“It was the one thing we could really count on to take the cancer pain away: the dogs and watching the Red Sox,” recalled Brian Kalfass, Zachary’s father. “Just seeing their playfulness and their devotion to our family … they were always there to take our pain away.”
Now, Zachary is 23 and healthy. And while he doesn’t relish the thought of discussing his bouts with cancer, his father realized the family’s story could help other families going through the same struggles.
“He understands now that by telling his story and telling our family’s story, we’re helping strike out cancer,” said Brian Kalfass.
Kalfass, a Baldwinsville resident and lifelong Red Sox fan, decided to write a book honoring his favorite baseball team and the family’s furry cheerleaders. After nearly a decade in the making, “The Adventures of Fenway and Hooper at Fenway Park” was finally released last month. The book is a tour of Fenway Park through the eyes of two playful pups based on the Kalfass family’s pets.
A portion of the book’s sales will benefit the Jimmy Fund, a charity that supports the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
“I wanted to make a child’s book that the whole family could enjoy and I wanted it to go to a good cause,” Kalfass said.
The Jimmy Fund is one of the Boston Red Sox’s official charities, and Dana-Farber is a leader in cancer research.
“I lost my mother to cancer at an early age — I was 10 — and my son had cancer,” Kalfass said. “It’s important to give back to local communities, but because of the research … the University of Rochester and Upstate, they’re all learning from the leader, and that’s Dana-Farber.”
Kalfass faced plenty of obstacles in making his dream a reality.
“In the beginning it was challenging because a lot of people just didn’t think the market was there,” he said. “I published it myself because a lot of publishers didn’t see the style of book they just didn’t see the market for sports-oriented children’s books.”
Despite the rejections from publishers, Kalfass’ friends and fellow Red Sox fans encouraged him not to give up. While “Fenway and Hooper” is a children’s book, there are plenty of notes from Red Sox history that older fans will enjoy.
Eventually, Kalfass got in touch with the Red Sox’s official historian, Gordon Edes.
“He really fell in love with the book and told me to pursue my dream,” Kalfass said.
Finally, Kalfass “got in front of the right people,” connecting with the Red Sox and the Jimmy Fund. The family was invited to the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon in conjunction with the book’s release on Aug. 21. The 36-hour broadcast encompasses two Red Sox games and features the stories of Dana-Farber patients, providers, researchers and celebrity guests.
“We’re the only family that has never been treated at Dana-Farber that has been invited,” Kalfass said.
The Kalfass family — Brian, his wife Melissa, and children, Zachary, Ayla, Brenner and Chase — posed with larger-than-life cardboard cutouts of their dogs’ cartoon counterparts and got to meet players like Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez.
Sadly, only one of the two Boston terriers immortalized in print is still around to celebrate the book’s release. Hooper died in 2018. But Fenway is still going strong at nearly 13 years old.
“Fenway’s still around. She enjoys just being with us. We always have the game on and she really enjoys just sitting there,” Kalfass said.
Zachary, now 23, is monitored regularly for signs of disease.
“It could come back. That’s tough for a young man to consider. We’re trying to be very positive,” Brian Kalfass said.
Zachary’s positive attitude inspired his father throughout his journey
“He never gave up. I’m so proud of him. He spent multiple months in hospitals through brain surgeries and chemotherapy but I never heard him say he had a bad day. He took it like a champ,” Kalfass said. “I think that’s what made me not give up on this book. That’s something I really look up to.”
Now that “The Adventures of Fenway and Hooper at Fenway Park” is complete, Kalfass does not plan to rest on his laurels. His goal is to raise $100,000 for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
“We’re already in talks to get it into the Fenway store and the Red Sox team store,” Kalfass said of the book.
Kalfass is hoping “Fenway and Hooper” will be the first in a series of sports-themed books that will benefit charities.
“It was a really tough process to start and to finish, but I plan to do one for the Yankees,” Kalfass said.
The New England Patriots and Boston Bruins have expressed interest, Kalfass said.
“First, we’ve got to get this one off the ground,” he said. “If this one’s successful, we plan on going big.”
To learn more about “The Adventures of Fenway and Hooper at Fenway Park” or to purchase the book, visit fenwayandhooper.com.