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05/07/09 10:00 AM ET

MLB continues fight against breast cancer

Baseball, Komen foundation set for Sunday's ballgirl program

After more than a quarter-century since she made a promise to her dying sister, Nancy Brinker says today: "We are so close to creating a world without breast cancer. The science is there. Now is the time for us to see this fight through so that no one ever has to fear breast cancer again."

Those words are at the root of this weekend's annual Major League Baseball celebration of Mother's Day. MLB and Susan G. Komen for the Cure -- the foundation named after the founder's late sister -- are teaming up again to let this important date for moms be a chance to make a difference.

At all home games Sunday, an "Honorary Bat Girl" contest winner will be recognized as someone who has gone to bat against breast cancer in daily life. MLB and Komen for the Cure announced the winners of this initiative, which was developed to raise additional awareness and support for the two institutions' annual "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" joint program. Visiting teams on Mother's Day will select another date in May to honor their "Honorary Bat Girl."

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"We are proud to honor these brave and inspiring people who are supporting the fight against breast cancer," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "As a social institution, Major League Baseball is making every attempt to raise awareness about the disease while recognizing the men and women living with its effects. We salute the 'Honorary Bat Girls' as they help us celebrate Mother's Day in this very special way."

"Major League Baseball's involvement and support over the years has been vital in enabling us to move forward in our promise to save lives and end breast cancer forever," said Katrina McGhee, vice president, global partnerships at Komen for the Cure. "All of the 'Honorary Bat Girls' and contest participants are living testaments to the power of one person making a difference and inspiring others to take action."

One of the greatest things about MLB's annual recognition of Mother's Day is the way it empowers all fans to participate in the fight against breast cancer. Hundreds of players again will swing pink Louisville Slugger bats, and fans will be able to again bid on them at a later date at the MLB.com Auction to raise proceeds for Komen for the Cure. Fans can purchase their own personalized pink bat here or at slugger.com, with $10 from the sale of each bat benefiting Komen for the Cure.

On April 14, MLB and Susan G. Komen for the Cure launched an online search to find an "Honorary Bat Girl" for each Club. Fans from across the country have been sharing their stories of inspiration and hope and how they are supporting the fight against breast cancer. More than 1,000 testimonials were submitted at MLB.com by breast cancer survivors, advocates and supporters of the cause, and one winner per club was selected by a panel of judges and nearly 2.2 million fan votes.

The winners
Here are the 15 winners of the Honorary Bat Girl contest being recognized on Mother's Day.
DiamondbacksAnne FairchildChino Valley, AZ
OriolesCathy GreerHollywood, MD
Red SoxDorothy MucciaroneWalpole, MA
White SoxMary MurphyGurnee, IL
RedsTraci ClancyFlorence, KY
IndiansJennifer Torok Twinsburg, OH
RockiesKathy B. DeYoungAurora, CO
AstrosKarissa MaPhoenix, AZ
AngelsDavid HultquistOrange, CA
DodgersGregg GarfinkelNorthridge, CA
BrewersJill Newman Milwaukee, WI
TwinsAnn ParriottNorth Oaks, MN
MetsPatricia ColellaAstoria, NY
AthleticsCourtney LeBoeufSan Francisco, CA
PhilliesKathy AbelMarlton, NJ

Each "Honorary Bat Girl" will have an opportunity to take part in pregame activities, be honored during an on-field ceremony, and receive two tickets to the game and pink MLB merchandise. The ceremonial use of pink on Mother's Day baseball games has become a big and well-liked tradition, not just recognized on the field but also in fan attire. In addition to the pink bats, many players also will wear pink wristbands and the symbolic pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness will be displayed on player uniforms, as well as on all on-field personnel. Dugout lineup cards also will be pink. In addition to promotional support, Major League Baseball Charities has committed $50,000 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

One player from each club will be a representative on Mother's Day, and most have personally experienced the effects breast cancer and other cancers have had on their families. Some of these players include Angels pitcher Jered Weaver (mother survived breast cancer), Astros first baseman Lance Berkman (aunt survived breast cancer) and Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis (mother survived breast cancer).

Several MLB players and MLB Network talent staff were part of a celebrity panel that took part in voting for "Honorary Bat Girl" winners. Nick Swisher of the Yankees is an advocate of fighting all forms of cancer, and in 2007, he grew his hair out to donate it to create free wigs for women dealing with hair loss from cancer treatment. Today, Swisher continues to participate in the on-field activities of MLB's "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" program. MLB Network analyst Mitch Williams' mother survived breast cancer, and he is involved in helping charities associated with the disease. Fellow MLB Network analyst Dan Plesac's mother recently was diagnosed with breast cancer. Berkman and Markakis also were part of the celebrity panel.

From the 1940s until recently, the rate of new cases of breast cancer in the U.S. increased by a little over one percent a year. In the 1980s, the rate of new cases rose markedly (likely due to increased screening), and during the 1990s the rate of new cases leveled off. Since 2003 there has been a marked decline in the rate of new breast cancer cases. This decline appears to be related to the drop in use of postmenopausal hormones that occurred after the Women's Health Initiative study showed that their use increased risk of breast cancer and heart disease.

Although these statistics are encouraging, an estimated 182,460 new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in American women last year. In 1975, the incidence (the number of new cases) of breast cancer was 107 per 100,000 for white women and 94 per 100,000 for black women. Twenty-nine years later, in 2004, the number of new cases per year had risen to 128 per 100,000 for white women and 119 per 100,000 for black women.

Even though incidence increased during that 29-year period, mortality for white women decreased. In 1975, 32 per 100,000 white women died of breast cancer, but by 2004, the figure had declined to 24. For black women, though, mortality increased over the same period, rising from 30 per 100,000 black women in the population in 1975 to 32 per 100,000 in 2004.

Baseball is a place for statistics, and right now these statistics belong very much as well. If it made you stop and think about the magnitude of breast cancer's continued impact, then keep citing the statistics. The fight to end breast cancer is a 24/7/365 effort, certainly not just a Mother's Day recognition but an appropriate time to bring it more to light.

Some clubs are adding their own touch of pink to the Sunday plans. Take the D-backs, for example. Fans at Chase Field can purchase tickets in a special "Pink Out" section where $5 from each ticket will benefit the Phoenix chapter of Komen for the Cure. Before the game, the D-backs will host a Survivor Parade on the warning track as offer free mammogram testing on the plaza conducted by Assured Women's Wellness and the Pink365 Campaign. The first 5,000 moms through the gate there will receive a Mother's Day D-backs tote bag.

MLB President Bob DuPuy, asked about the Mother's Day plans at the four-commissioner event Thursday in New York, said it not only raises awareness and helps in the fight against breast cancer but it also puts an important baseball demographic front and center.

"All of our data shows that women make up a significant portion of the fan base, and a significant portion of women are serious baseball fans," DuPuy said. "Women might not be playing in the games, but this is how they get to participate in the game of baseball. They come out in great numbers as fans.

"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. It is an important time for us. What better way to spend Mother's Day?"

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.