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Mother’s Day and Baseball

May 5, 2008

On Mother’s Day, 2006, Seattle Mariners’ first baseman Richie Sexson hit a home run. On Mother’s Day, 2007, Bill Hall of the Milwaukee Brewers hit a walk-off home run. His mother was in the stadium cheering for him. Both Sexson and Hall were hitting with pink baseball bats. Last year, Ken Griffey Jr. also hit a pink homer. Tory  Hunter hit two pink bat home runs. Major League Baseball allows pink bats to be used only on Mother’s Day.

This Sunday, for the third season in a row, more than two hundred major leaguers will step to the plate and take their swings with pink bats. The Louisville Slugger Company dyes hundreds of their white ash lumber bats pink for Mother’s Day.

Why are baseball players using pink bats on Mother’s Day? Major League Baseball is going to bat against breast cancer, trying to raise awareness and money for the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure. The effort has netted more than $350 thousand in donations each of the last two years.

More than 40,000 women die each year from the disease. For some of the players, this hits close to home. Cliff Floyd’s sister Shanta died of breast cancer three years ago at the age of twenty-one. Andruw Jones will be swinging a pink bat again this year as his way of honoring the memory of his aunt, Rosa Montero, who died of the illness after the 2003 baseball season.

Baseball and Mother’s Day have a longstanding connection.

Bob Feller, born in Van Meter, Iowa, became a Major League pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. His nickname was the Van Meter Heater. The son of a hardworking farmer, he joked that shoveling manure and baling hay strengthened his arms and gave him the ability to throw as hard as he did. In his 20-year career, he recorded three no-hit games and twelve one-hit games.  The big right-hander had a blazing fastball that mystified opposing hitters, eventually carrying him to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

The Indians were scheduled to play the Chicago White Sox on Mother’s Day, 1939, in the Windy City.  Bob Feller was to take the mound that Sunday. His mother had never before seen him pitch a Major League game.

Chicago was about as close as the Cleveland team ever got to Iowa.   So, Bob Feller gave his mother a train ticket to Chicago and a ticket for the game.   She would finally get to see him pitch in the big leagues!

Things went well until the fourth inning.  Mrs. Feller was seated in a box seat just above the Indians’ dugout.  Bob Feller hurled a fast ball over the outside corner of the plate. White Sox third baseman Marv Owen fouled a line drive into the stands.  The ball struck Mrs. Feller between the eyes.  She was knocked out cold.  Her glasses were broken. She spent the next two weeks in a Chicago hospital with seven stitches in her face, other cuts and bruises, and two black eyes.

Sometimes Mother’s Day can be really hard on a mother.

I will never forget the year that my mother received a surprise package for Mother’s Day.   At lunch after church on Mother’s Day that year, my dad handed my mother a shoebox-shaped package wrapped in Mother’s Day paper with a big pink bow on top.  My mother put the package aside until we had all eaten our fried chicken, green beans, and rice and gravy she had prepared for her special Mother’s Day meal.

Jumping up and down excitedly, my sister encouraged my mother to open the gift.  Mama sipped her iced tea and handed the package to me.  Smiling, she asked me to open her present.

I tore through the paper and the ribbon, opening the box, I could hardly believe my eyes!  Inside I found a new pair of baseball shoes!  They were black with rubber spikes,  exactly my size!  It was not that my mother wanted baseball shoes.  I was on a Little League baseball team. My old tattered Converse All-Stars were not what I imagined I needed to be the All-Star third baseman that I hoped to become.

A gift of baseball shoes for my mother has become a symbol to me of the kind of mother she was.  Not everybody is blessed with a good mother, but many of us have had the great advantage that comes from a mother whose love was unconditional and self-sacrificing.  It is the reason someone has said, “A mother’s love is a reflection of the love of God.”

This Sunday is Mother’s Day.  It is a day to honor the special women in our lives.  If you are a husband and father, invite your children to have a meal with their mother.  Make arrangements to feed them a special lunch that the mother in your home does not have to prepare. After the dishes are done, by someone other than the mother,  maybe you can catch a baseball game. Look for the pink bats.  They, too, are a way to make this a special day for the women who have nurtured us.

By the way, Bob Feller played in nine Major League All-Star games.  I did not make the All-Star game as a Little Leaguer, even with new baseball shoes. I doubt I could have done any better with a pink bat.

-Kirk H. Neely

© H-J Weekly, May 2008

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