MLB goes to bat in Mother's Day tradition
Breast cancer awareness in spotlight during Sunday's games
When Rays right-hander James Shields takes the mound in search of his sixth win Sunday afternoon in Baltimore, he will see a sight that is now familiar in Major League Baseball: Opposing batters swinging pink Louisville Sluggers.
"I think it's great," Shields said of MLB's ongoing efforts to raise awareness of breast cancer. "Everyone has pink bats, pink gloves, pink shoes. [I like] everything they do and just support the cause. It's one of the best causes out there, so it's a great thing."
It is a necessary thing every Mother's Day because breast cancer is still a wretched fact of life. In 2012, there will be 226,870 new cases of invasive breast cancer (includes new cases of primary breast cancer among survivors). There will be 63,300 new cases of in situ breast cancer -- either non-invasive breast cancer or a risk factor that increases the risk of invasive breast cancer. There will be 39,510 breast cancer deaths.
Continuing a tradition that began in 2006, MLB celebrates Mother's Day at all home ballparks on Sunday as a platform to raise awareness of breast cancer in the interest of prevention, treatment and a cure. Hundreds of MLB players are expected to use pink Louisville Sluggers, stamped with the MLB breast cancer awareness logo. To further demonstrate their support for the fight against breast cancer, players and on-field personnel will wear a pink ribbon on their uniforms along with pink wrist bands. Commemorative dugout lineup cards also will be pink.
Nine-time Grammy award winner Bonnie Raitt, who lost her brother and close friends to cancer, recorded a special video at the MLB Fan Cave to lend her support to the Honorary Bat Girl initiative and the ongoing fight to eradicate the disease. The video will be shown at big league ballparks.
The guest judging panel for the Honorary Bat Girl program included Phillies pitcher Joe Blanton. It is the fifth anniversary of the Mother's Day when Blanton pitched for Oakland and the pregame ceremony for that home game honored his mother Carolyn Blanton and his aunt Dottie Rainwater -- both breast cancer survivors then and breast cancer survivors now.
"I really don't know how to say it," Blanton said when asked about Mother's Day 2012. "It's such a tough thing to go through and they got through it. I think maybe they looked at that day in Oakland like, maybe somebody at the ballpark just found out they have cancer and they look at us and see a couple people that came through it -- kind of like there's light at the end of the tunnel."
Joining Blanton on the guest panel of judges was Braves outfielder Jason Heyward, whose aunt passed away from lung cancer; Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick, whose best friend's mom is a breast cancer survivor; and Giants pitcher Barry Zito, whose mom was affected by cancer. Also on the panel was MLB Network host Chris Rose, who has several close friends who have been affected by the disease; international soccer star Mia Hamm, supporter of the Honorary Bat Girl initiative with husband and former All-Star Nomar Garciaparra, whose grandmother passed away from breast cancer; and "Desperate Housewives" actor James Denton, who lost his mother to breast cancer.
Mariners closer Brandon League said his mother, Leigh, is on the club's current trip to New York, and that she will be watching him at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.
"Being raised by my mom, she's my No. 1 role model," League said. "I like to spend that day with her. She's here in New York now. I'd like my mom and my wife to both be here, but you can't have everything. I'm looking forward to spending that day with her."
Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz will be playing at Fenway Park on Sunday, and for him it will be partly a time to reflect on his mother. Angela Rosa Arias died in a car crash in the Dominican Republic in January 2002.
"Always," Ortiz said. "It's a part of my life -- especially on days like this that are coming up, you just have memories. It's hard to just forget about her."
The MLB.com Mother's Day page includes stories on representatives of every club, in each case an appreciation of the special bond between mother and Major Leaguer.
Rays infielder Sean Rodriguez said he always looks forward to swinging the pink bat. He is hoping for especially solid connection with a ball for more than one reason.
"I just go up there hoping I don't break both of my bats so I have a full bat to take home to my mom," he said. "I don't want to take her two pieces, I want to take her one full bat."
After you watch players swing all those pink bats on Mother's Day to help Komen for the Cure, be sure to look out for the MLB.com Auction opportunity to help as well. The last part of the event is always the auctioning of those game-used and autographed pink bats to raise further funds. The auction increasingly represents a sizable chunk of the total that goes to Komen for overall funding for awareness, research and treatment of breast cancer.
You also can buy one of those 2012 pink bats right now from the MLB.com Shop and help in the fight against breast cancer in the process. They are going for $69.99, and $10 of each sale goes to Komen for the Cure. The bats are the same model many players will use Sunday.
The Mother's Day Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer program is one of several cancer-related initiatives supported by MLB. Other initiatives include Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), and its mission to support the groundbreaking scientific research aimed at getting new cancer treatments to patients in an accelerated timeframe; the Prostate Cancer Foundation Home Run Challenge, which helps increase awareness of prostate cancer and raise money for the search for a cure as part of MLB Father's Day activities; and Play Sun Smart, a league-wide, season-long skin cancer awareness program in conjunction with the MLB Players Association and the American Academy of Dermatology.