Mount Pleasant man turns to baseball after surviving New York criminals and terrorists — and cancer
As a boy, Tim Gansrow set his career goals and never wavered: pro baseball player or police officer.
Mostly, he loved baseball. But it didn’t offer him a professional career, not off the bat anyway.
Gansrow also loved cops and robbers. So a cop he became.
For 20 years with the New York City Police Department, in the violence-riddled belly of the city, he risked his life and saved more than a few others.
He earned two Medals of Valor, witnessed the nation’s worst terrorist attack, lost a friend in it, nearly died of cancer himself and, beating it, re-evaluated his life’s next season.
That next season, in case it would be his last, involved moving to Mount Pleasant and devoting himself to his boyhood love: the All-American sport of baseball.
Gansrow grew up in a big family with little money, fashioning himself into a formidable athlete. A baseball scholarship made it possible for him to go to college at Concordia in New York and keep playing ball.
“Baseball gave me an out,” he recalls. “I loved it. And it was mine.”
They were great years. He could hear the bat crack and feel the ball thunk into his glove and bask in the rush of winning forever, if ...
If he was Major League Baseball good.
The summer after his junior year, he played for a nonaffiliated professional baseball team. He was good.
But not major league good.
“It hits you like a rock,” he recalls.
Yet he also met his future wife, Tracy, and decided to settle down. Which meant finding a job, one that could offer them a solid future.
He went to the police academy and joined the NYPD. The rookie officer went to his precinct that first day with his fellow newbies and, at one point, left the group to get some water.
A brusque older cop spotted Gansrow and ordered him to grab his gear and get to the van. But not in such nice terms.
Confused and a bit ruffled, Gansrow did so.
The police van, filled with senior officers, pitched forward in eerie silence.
“Are you a rookie?” someone finally asked.
Turns out, he wasn’t supposed to be there at all. They were headed for Washington Heights, then a crime-ridden area embroiled in riots. Martial law had been declared.
The van door opened. Shots were fired.
He was gone for three days back before cell phones could offer his worried wife assurance.
“I had no idea what was going on,” Tracy recalls.
But she watched the news.
Finally, he returned home dirty, exhausted — and thrilled.
“He loved it!” Tracy recalls. “It was scary and exciting. That was probably the best way for him to start out.”
Within two weeks, he and another officer faced a hostage situation. A man held a woman captive and had cut her throat. She was bleeding profusely.
Gansrow’s fellow officer shot once, striking the man once in the head.
“This is unbelievable,” he thought. “This is like the Wild West.”
He was hooked.
Lives at risk
It was New Year’s Eve 1993, and denizens of the nation’s largest city swarmed Times Square. So did the police.
When a call went out about an armed robbery at a clothing store two blocks away, nobody believed it.
“You’d have to be the dumbest crook on Earth,” Gansrow says.
He and his partner headed over and slipped through the store’s glass doors.
“It just didn’t feel right,” he recalled.
First, he saw a woman cowered behind a rack.
Then, not 20 feet away, a man’s head popped up. He had clear green eyes. And a TEC-9.
With one arm, he sprayed the store with bullets.
Gansrow ran. All he had was his life and a six-shot revolver. While sprinting, he turned and fired off all six rounds.
Gansrow will tell you he is not a great aim. But on that day, one bullet hit the shooter’s calf.
Racing outside, Gansrow dove behind his squad car and rushed to reload, knowing hostages remained inside.
He glanced around. Hundreds of officers swarmed.
“We’re OK,” he thought. “The gang is here.”
When the hostages were released, who ran out with them? A man with clear green eyes, now wearing different clothes.
Gansrow raced over and tackled him, pulling up the shooter’s pant leg to show the bullet wound.
He received his first Medal of Valor for that day’s work.
Making ends meet
Sadly, police work pays lousy. And New York is no cheap place to live.
So Gansrow started doing security work on the side.
He also helped coach at the northeastern college he’d attended. He loved the energy. He loved the competition. He loved grooming players.
“Nothing drives me crazier than to not succeed,” he says.
But by the 1990s, he was working 100 hours a week, traveling to scout players while juggling his police and security work.
With the birth of his son, Connor, he also became a dad.
Something had to give. He left coaching and threw himself into police work, hitting the detective track, working in narcotics among other duties. He earned his second Medal of Valor during a shootout while executing a search warrant involving a Colombian drug ring.
He was promoted to homicide, then to an organized crime division attached to the FBI.
Then one morning while working out, he saw breaking news of fire at the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
At Ground Zero
Gansrow had planned to head downtown anyway to meet Stephen Driscoll, a former partner and friend since their rookie days. They’d just started a security business on the side.
As Gansrow hurried in, Driscoll called from the scene: “This is really bad,” he said.
The guys needed help.
Flying in his unmarked squad car, Gansrow heard another plane had hit the South Tower.
When Gansrow arrived, he found Driscoll, who worked on the force’s emergency team.
Driscoll would go in and help people get out. Gansrow would help them outside.
Driscoll rushed back inside.
And then the tower collapsed.
Gansrow fled through the debris, certain he, too, was going to die.
It took 23 days to find Driscoll’s body. For that time and longer, Gansrow worked the rescue and recovery operation. He didn’t stop, didn’t come home, barely showered or slept. Cellphones didn’t work, so he rarely called home.
“It was like being in the Twilight Zone,” Tracy recalls. “There was just fear — huge, huge fear. I didn’t know what was going on.”
Gansrow, a man normally prone to easy quips of humor, turns stony remembering his friend and that day:
“I’m here. He’s not.”
Gansrow kept toiling in narcotics, then as a sergeant over a joint FBI-NYPD financial terrorism task force.
He had a side security business that grew to include superstar names.
He offered free baseball clinics and started up a program.
And he and Tracy had three kids. Life was busy, which meant great.
But as 40 approached, lethargy crept into the competitor’s body. He craved sugar and put on a few pounds.
Then came the cough, worsening until his phlegm was tinged green with blood.
“I’ve got no time for this nonsense,” he thought. “I’ve got a family to raise, a business to run and a job to do.”
He was aging. He had a virus. He had pneumonia.
He’d get better.
But then he couldn’t move 50 pounds on a leg press. His partner drove him to a doctor.
Scans showed Gansrow’s heart was so enlarged he could have a heart attack any time.
Off to a hospital he went.
But Gansrow didn’t worry. Heart problems ran in his family. If he did have a heart attack, he’d be in a hospital.
They’d fix him up. He’d get better.
He called Tracy: Stay with the kids. I’ll be fine.
Then a new doctor walked in, his face pale: “Who’s here of your family?”
Death at the door
It was January 2010 when a doctor picked up a big, square office phone and placed it against Gansrow’s chest.
Scans showed a mass as big as the phone inside Gans-row’s chest. And more spots in his lungs. And another in his pericardium, a fluid-filled sac around the heart. It might have pierced the sac’s lining.
“I can’t guarantee your survival through the night,” the doctor warned.
Gansrow moved to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where he got good news: The lesion had not pierced his pericardium.
And very bad news: Gansrow had primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma, a rare and highly aggressive cancer that might have been caused by exposure to toxins at Ground Zero.
Gansrow’s life could now be measured in months.
Fear and fight
For those first days, he thought only of his family. And his regrets.
He’d been working 100-hour weeks, trying to do his job well, trying to provide for his wife and kids, then ages 15-9.
Maybe he’d been wrong.
“Maybe what they’d really needed was a dad. Maybe what she really needed was a husband,” he thought.
But then he asked himself: If it was God’s will that he die, had he done everything right?
Yes, his intentions had been good. And would remain so.
“Now, there is a fight,” he figured.
Heart on fire
The chemo didn’t help.
His doctor suggested a clinical trial. With the new drugs flowing, he felt a sudden burning.
“My chest is on fire,” he yelled. “It’s working!”
The doctor looked decidedly unconvinced.
Three days later, he and Tracy left the hospital. By time they got home, she could barely get him into bed. He was freezing, then on fire. Steroids left him sobbing, nightmares raging through his sleep.
They had warned he’d get sick. But “sick” was not a word to describe the hell his body suffered.
It was worth it all.
By the time his first year’s diagnosis birthday had passed, his tumors vanished except for the largest one in his chest wall. And that had shrunk to dime size.
He’d thought his life would be measured in weeks. Maybe, just maybe, he’d have longer.
Chemo, however, left him with neuropathy in his fingers.
After 19 years and nine months on the force, he couldn’t fire a gun.
“Some things were going to have to change,” he says. “It was time to go.”
He and Tracy sat down with their children, Connor, Dylan and Kaitlyn. They all wanted to move South, somewhere warmer, somewhere beautiful like a South Carolina beach where they’d vacationed.
Back to baseball
It’s one of the Lowcountry’s late spring afternoons when patches of blue sky battle roiling clouds for command of the sky.
A tapestry of greens and browns along a golf course and marsh offer a stunning view from their Mount Pleasant home’s second-floor deck.
“Oh, my goodness. We live here,” Tracy says.
Eighteen months after moving, she still cannot believe it.
Yet when they first moved, their younger boy, Dylan, missed his old friends. So he and Gansrow hit the batting cages and got to know Mount Pleasant’s baseball community.
“We began to see incredible talent and athleticism in this town,” Gansrow recalls.
But given the talent pool, he thought Mount Pleasant could do better.
“I didn’t see a foundational base,” he recalls.
An idea jelled. Gansrow already knew top players who would teach. And, for once, he had the time.
“I was always meant to be a part of baseball,” Gansrow says.
The Pro Performance Baseball Academy opened six months ago in Velocity Sports Performance, which trains elite athletes and younger players in a variety of sports.
ProPBA, as it’s dubbed, offers individual lessons, clinics and summer camps. Gansrow recently added softball as well.
He tries to keep costs low while offering quality training.
“I want to give it away at a rate people can afford,” he says.
His staff includes guys from the Oakland Athletics, Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals organization, College of Charleston and others.
One recent afternoon, Gansrow sits in an indoor batting cage pitching to 7-year-old Anders King of Daniel Island.
Anders’ father, Jason, watches.
“He’s learning the fundamentals, and his confidence is through the roof,” King says. “Two lessons with Tim, and he was a whole different player.”
Indeed, the helmeted kid cranks almost every pitch up into the cage’s netting.
After one iffy swing, Gansrow hops up and demonstrates how to pivot on the back foot.
“Now a line drive, right at me,” he challenges.
Anders cranks the next one hard, making Gansrow duck.
“There it is!” Gansrow hollers.
It’s in moments like these that he lives his next season, teaching a new group so they, too, can feel the bat crack and feel the rush of a hard-fought win.
Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563 or follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes.