05/09/07 11:31 AM ET
Game goes to bat for breast cancer cure
Pink bats highlight awareness campaign on Mother's Day
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
It's about an estimated 178,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer that will be diagnosed among U.S. women in 2007. It's about an estimated 40,460 women who will die from the disease this year, and the fact is that we still don't know what causes breast cancer or how to prevent it. It's about someone who may be close to you.
It's about Cliff Floyd's sister Shanta, who died of breast cancer at the age of 21 last year.
"She was a great actress through the whole thing," the Cubs outfielder said. "I'm sure everybody appreciated it, because she didn't want them to see her suffer. She was a soldier -- she fought all the way. I'm definitely going to use [a pink bat]."
It's about two words that were considered taboo in public conversation 25 years ago, when Nancy Brinker started a foundation that became known as Susan G. Komen for the Cure -- a promise she is still trying relentlessly to fulfill for her older sister Suzy, who had lost a battle against the disease.
"I guess I think of breast cancer as a monster, as something that needs to be eliminated from the face of the earth," Brinker said recently. When asked what Suzy would have thought, she said, "I think she would be urging me to finish the job. For all of us to finish the job."
That's where the pink bats come in again this Sunday at every Major League Baseball home ballpark. They will be used by more than 200 players like Floyd -- more than twice as many as last year's historic display -- and they are purely symbolic, no different structurally than any ordinary Louisville Slugger milled from Northern Pennsylvania White Ash. They are supposed to get your attention as they did last year. They're meant to induce the question, "Why are they swinging pink bats?" so that you will stop and think about breast cancer.
It's that simple.
"Raising people's awareness for a great cause like this is something we can do," said Mets third baseman David Wright, who will use a pink bat on Sunday. "It's important that we do our part in the partnership that baseball has."
Select game-used bats, as well as team-autographed bats from every club, will be auctioned on MLB.com at a later date, with proceeds benefiting Susan G. Komen for the Cure. As with last year -- and with the recent auction of Jackie Robinson jerseys -- you can expect to see the used pink bats show up in batches on a gradual basis. It's all about raising as much money as possible for the fight, and you could have a wonderful memento of your own contribution. Fans also can purchase their own personalized pink bat at MLB.com or www.slugger.com, with MLB donating $10 from the sale of each bat to benefit the Komen foundation. Just think: If you come away with one of these bats, the message just goes on and on with every person who sees it displayed.
During games played on Mother's Day, Major League players also will wear pink wristbands, and pink ribbons will be displayed on player uniforms as well as on those of all on-field personnel. The breast cancer awareness theme will be carried throughout the game, including pink-ribbon logos on the bases and commemorative home plates, and pink dugout lineup cards. Team-autographed commemorative home plates, pink bats and lineup cards from each ballpark also will be listed on the MLB.com Auction at a later date, to raise additional funds for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Those aren't the only ways that baseball and its fans are taking action. During the "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" program, fans can support the initiative by logging onto an MLB-themed microsite (www.komen.org/mlb) and making a monetary pledge in the name of a specific team or to the general cause. Donations made in a team's name will go to programs in that team's community to support breast health and breast cancer awareness. The donations can be made at five different levels: "Single" ($25), "Double" ($50), "Triple" ($75), "Home Run" ($100) and "Grand Slam" ($250). Major League Baseball Charities has also committed an additional $50,000 on top of the fan donation total. Last year, MLB's contribution to Komen was $350,000, according to komen.org.
"Major League Baseball is proud to again partner with Susan G. Komen for the Cure to help raise awareness and funds for a disease that affects so many women and their families," Commissioner Bud Selig said in announcing the continued partnership and Mother's Day plans. "It is important to all of us in baseball that our clubs, players, licensees and fans give back to our communities in such a meaningful way."
In a perfect world, the pink bats would not become a permanent tradition, but as long as breast cancer continues to exist, it would not be surprising to see that become the case. Last year was a resounding success, at least in terms of focusing attention on the issue, as well as the overall monetary contribution to Komen that is then dispersed to scientific research and treatment objectives. Remember Bill Hall hitting that walk-off homer with his pink bat in that Brewers home game while his Mom was in the crowd?
"[MLB] does a lot of stuff like that in tribute to people who have meant something to the game," said Indians catcher Kelly Shoppach, who plans to use a pink bat if he is in the lineup on Sunday. "Obviously, every mother has meant something to the game. And for people who don't have much awareness about breast cancer, they might wonder why players are using pink bats and learn something."
Andruw Jones of the Braves will be swinging a pink bat as his way of honoring the memory of his aunt, Rosa Montero, who died of breast cancer back in Jones' native island of Curacao after the 2003 season. "It was tough," Jones said. "She battled it to the point to where she just gave up. She didn't want to battle any more because it was hurting."
There are unfortunately going to be many other deeply personal accounts relayed by players as these symbolic bats return on Sunday, and one after another, players across Major League Baseball are lining up for the opportunity to go pink to help make a difference. Some won't do it, and no one is compelled to. Each of the 30 MLB club sites features a story about that team's plans for Mother's Day, and the players' comments tell the story. For example:
Ramon Castro of the Mets: "People will see pinks bats and say, 'What's that?' That's what you want them to do. Then someone will explain what we're doing to help."
Kevin Millar of the Orioles: "With a good cause, you've got a free pass. That's the only way you get a free pass to swing pink."
Mark Loretta of the Astros: "It shows our softer side."
Mark DeRosa of the Cubs: "My mom wants me to do it. It's a nice gesture to some people and some family members."
Daryle Ward of the Cubs: "It shows that not only do we play baseball to entertain the fans, we also care about them. We do little things that mean a lot to a lot of people. You've got announcers telling them what [the pink bat] is for and the reason why, and it hopefully touches their hearts. You want to touch people, and not only with your talent."
The Mother's Day breast cancer initiative is one of several health initiatives supported by Major League Baseball. Other projects include the Father's Day Prostate Cancer Foundation Home Run Challenge, which helps raise money and awareness of prostate cancer; and Play Smart When it Comes to the Sun, a league-wide skin cancer awareness program in conjunction with the Major League Baseball Players Association and the American Academy of Dermatology.
On Mother's Day of 2006, Mariners first baseman Richie Sexson used a pink bat against the Angels and hit a home run off Jeff Weaver.
"I gave one bat to charity and another one to my mom," Sexson said.
Now he again will be among those taking a pink bat up to the plate on this Mother's Day. Seattle equipment manager Ted Walsh said all 13 of the Mariners' position players would receive two of the painted pink bats. That will be fairly common this week.
Once again, it will be an amazing sight on an extraordinary Sunday around Major League Baseball. People will talk about breast cancer as they watch the games in person or at home. Some women will be compelled to go for a screening. A little more help will be given to a large overall cause. And in a perfect world, one day in our lifetimes we won't have to talk about pink bats or the deadly disease of breast cancer any more.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.