Mother's Day more than a celebration
Honoring moms, ballparks go pink to battle breast cancer
The battle against breast cancer is fought on several fronts, with various weapons: Medical research, public awareness and education, the courage of affected women -- one out of eight, according to sobering statistics.In baseball, it is waged with pink bats, a symbolic weapon again wielded by hundreds of Major Leaguers on Sunday, a message of love on Mother's Day and of solidarity with cancer victims, survivors and those dedicated to eradicating the disease.
Not macho enough for you? The game's he-men have no problems with it. Not now. "I think the players are a little sensitive to what it represents," reasoned Dodgers manager Joe Torre. "When it was first created, guys might have shied away from it, but I think players now understand the significance of it." Pink bats have become annual Mother's Day symbols as part of MLB's "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" initiative to raise breast cancer awareness, with proceeds earmarked for Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Pink is loud -- but in Anaheim, leather was louder. The Angels' Torii Hunter made a game-saving, beyond-the-wall catch of Miguel Olivo's ninth-inning drive, then wondered, "My pink arm band is going to be on all the replays, right? That means a lot. It's a great cause, and to do something like that on Mother's Day, it's special." Included in this latest observance were salutes to "Honorary Bat Girl" contest winners in recognition of their fight against breast cancer as part of their daily lives. "We're very honored to have this association with Komen for the Cure and a chance to use the pink bats and then spread them around via auction and raise funds for Komen," said MLB president Bob DuPuy. "It is an important time for us. What better way to spend Mother's Day?" The Indians' Victor Martinez put the day into simple, heartfelt perspective: "This is a day for the ladies who brought us into the world. They deserve it." "It means a lot because of the women in my life," said the Giants' Emmanuel Burriss, who spent time prior to the game in Dodger Stadium calling dear relatives, from his mom, to his aunts. "Being a male athlete, you get a lot of recognition. Sometimes the women in your life don't really get that recognition. It means a lot to show them at least one day of support." For far too many players, the day was deeply personal. Like for the Royals' Mark Teahen, who laced a couple of identical doubles that were very meaningful for him. "It's really important to me this year because mom is going through that right now," Teahen said, referring to Marty, whose cancer was diagnosed during the offseason and who spent Spring Training in chemotherapy. "But she's been real strong through it and doing pretty well." In many instances, it was impossible to ignore the power of pin, -- and to wish that the breakthroughs forged with pink bats foretold similar progress in the search for a cure. Shrug it off as coincidence if you wish, but: In the Metrodome, Ken Griffey Jr. delivered his habitual Mother's Day home run -- his seventh on the holiday -- and his first in 56 at-bats since April 15. In Houston, Chase Headley produced the Padres' first home run in 193 at-bats, a two-run shot in the fourth off the Astros' Roy Oswalt. In Cleveland, Grady Sizemore's pink swing delivered a second-inning RBI single for the Indians' first run in 20 innings. Also at Progressive Field, the Tigers' Magglio Ordonez laced a first-inning double -- amazingly the first of the season for a guy who had totaled 118 of them the previous three seasons. In Phoenix, the Nationals' Adam Dunn doubled up in pink -- his first multihomer game since last July 30. In Milwaukee, Ryan Freel pinch-hit a ninth-inning single for his first hit as a member of the Cubs; the recent acquisition from Baltimore has battled a hamstring problem, and the hit was his first since April 20. In Denver, Todd Helton triggered the Rockies' 3-2 win over the Marlins with a first-inning triple -- his first three-bagger in nearly a year, since last June 5. In Arizona, it was a group effort for the D-backs. With the quintet swinging pink -- Felipe Lopez, Justin Upton, Reynolds, Eric Byrnes and Chris Snyder -- going a collective 10-for-21, the poorest-hitting team in the Majors collected a season-high 17 hits in a 10-8 win over the Nationals. "The pink bat has some serious mojo in it," said the Pirates' Craig Monroe -- who did not play in Sunday's game against the Mets but last year homered twice with the pink bat. Not in Chicago, it didn't: Pink swings by seven of the nine starters did not help the White Sox, who were held to two hits in a 7-1 loss to the Rangers, prompting manager Ozzie Guillen to observe, "We should go with the green bats next time. The pink bats didn't work for us today." Guillen turned serious to add, "But I think it's a great thing for Mother's Day. I think it's a special day. I'm part of [the breast cancer campaign] in Venezuela. We're looking for the cure, for something better." The Marlins' pink bats didn't "work," either, but Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez said merely having them in sight was important. "Just to have the pink bat, and have people ask, 'Hey, what is that pink stuff for?' is a good thing for baseball," Gonzalez said. "Anything we can do to help the awareness is worthwhile." Some players swung their pink all game. Others, baseball being an inherently superstitious activity, went one-and-done. The Phillies' Jayson Werth explained: "I think everybody goes up there and uses it their first at-bat, and if you get a hit, you use it again." Confirming Werth's take was the Cardinals' Skip Schumaker, who doubled his first two times up in an 8-7 win in Cincinnati. "I was going to use it for just one at-bat, but I got the hit, so I decided to take up there again," Schumaker said.
Either way, the message was clear. "Anything we can do to bring awareness to breast cancer research, I think is a good thing to do," Werth added.The message was also universal. "Anyone who turns on a game today and sees someone swinging a pink bat might think about someone who has breast cancer," Headley said. "It's a great way to call attention to it." "You don't realize how many women are affected by breast cancer or die from it or have gone through some tough times," said the Braves' Jeff Francoeur. "For us to show this kind of support, I think it's a real cool thing that MLB does." "It's a special day," agreed the Orioles' Luke Scott. "We think about our mothers. My mother has been a tremendous blessing for me, and I'm very thankful for her." The day certainly produced indelible memories for Mark Teixeira and Johnny Damon, two Yankees whose moms have dealt with health scares and who both pink-launched home runs in Baltimore. "It's obviously huge -- I think that's the first home run I've hit with a pink bat, so I'm going to go bring that to Mom right now," said Teixeira, referring to Margy, a breast cancer survivor who had been diagnosed when he was a freshman at Baltimore's St. Joseph's High School. "As soon as I hit it, I thought about it. It's pretty special to me." The Mets stayed in the pink by winning their seventh straight with their entire lineup going to the symbolic bats, including Carlos Delgado, who detonated a go-ahead three-run rally in the fourth against Pittsburgh with a double off the top of Citi Field's center-field wall. Think Pink Day was about much more than just lumber. Players also wore pink wristbands, some -- Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, the Pirates' Nate McLouth and Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez among them -- wore pink cleats, and the pink ribbon symbol for breast cancer awareness was prominent on all uniforms. Managers made out their lineups on official pink lineup cards. Some teams, like the Astros, used pink stationery for the usual everyday correspondence. Boston catcher Jason Varitek wore pink gear behind the plate for the nationally televised night game at Fenway Park against the Rays. And some of the A's rigged-out their wardrobe with pink necklaces -- like Rajai Davis, who had his mom and a former teacher both in mind. "One of my teachers when I was coming up in high school had cancer. She had her breast removed. It affects everyone," Davis said. "A special day like this kind of thanks my mom for helping raise me, and I'm grateful for that and that she's still here on earth and she's still together with my dad." Sunday's visiting teams will hold their own observances at a chosen home date the rest of this month. But that didn't prevent members of road clubs from joining Sunday's salute. In Oakland, for instance, the first five Blue Jays to bat in the top of the first did so with pink bats, three of producing hits -- as wielded by Marco Scutaro, Vernon Wells and Adam Lind. "We'd like people to understand that Major League Baseball is serious about helping," Wells emphasized. You want to keep them in your prayers. Breast cancer awareness is important, and we're all in this together. We all feel their pain." At New York's Citi Field, a total of 10 Pirates went pink, including McLouth, whose three-RBI day included a two-run homer. In Cleveland, Sizemore was joined in the Pink Brigade by Asdrubal Cabrera, Mark DeRosa, Ben Francisco, Jhonny Peralta, Kelly Shoppach and Martinez. Fans will play the next big role in this process, because attention will move now to the MLB.com Auction and the gradual arrival of game-used pink bats, home plates, logo bases and lineup cards. Fans also can purchase their own personalized "Mother's Day 2009" pink bats right now for $79.99 apiece at the MLB.com Shop, with $10 from the sale of each one going to Komen.
In addition to the global observances, several teams included special features on their Mother's Day agendas. Among them: In Houston, several moms of Astros players delivered ceremonial first pitches to their sons. They included Carrie Bourn (mother of Michael), Dorothy Erstad (Darin), Marie Geary (Geoff), Vallerie Keppinger (Jeff), Lynn Michaels (Jason), Connie Muecke (Geoff Blum), Terri Ortiz (Russ), Gail Pence (Hunter), Linda Sampson (Chris) and Ellie Towles (J.R.). The first 10,000 women entering U.S. Cellular Field were presented with pink White Sox drawstring bags.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.