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Mother’s Day and Baseball

May 7, 2012

On Mother’s Day, 2007, Bill Hall of the Milwaukee Brewers slammed a walk-off homerun, using a pink baseball bat. His mother was seated in the stadium, cheering for him. A year later, Ken Griffey, Jr. hit a pink-bat homer, and Tory Hunter hit two pink-bat homeruns. Major League Baseball allows the use of pink bats only on Mother’s Day.

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

Major League Baseball has gone to bat against breast cancer. In the past six years, the effort has raised more than a million dollars for the Susan B. Komen for the Cure Foundation.

More than 40,000 women die each year from the disease. For some of the players, this hits close to home. New York Yankees’ first baseman Mark Teixeira will swing a pink bat in honor of his mother, a breast cancer survivor.

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. 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 twenty-year career, Feller recorded three no-hit games and twelve one-hit games. Nicknamed the Van Meter Heater, the big right-hander’s blazing fastball mystified opposing hitters and eventually carried him to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Bob Feller was scheduled to take the mound on Mother’s Day, 1939, as the Indians played the Chicago White Sox in the Windy City.  Feller gave his mother a train ticket to Chicago and a ticket for the game. She had never before seen him pitch a Major League game.  She would finally get to see him pitch in the big leagues!

Mrs. Feller was seated in a box seat just above the Indians’ dugout, enjoying the game, when things went terribly wrong during the fourth inning.  Bob Feller hurled a fastball 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, breaking her glasses and knocking her out cold.  With seven stitches in her face and two black eyes, Bob’s mother spent the next two weeks in a Chicago hospital.

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

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

After the meal, 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 gift.  I could hardly believe my eyes when inside I found a brand new pair of baseball shoes, exactly my size!  My mother neither wanted nor needed baseball shoes.  I was the one on a Little League team. My old tattered Converse All-Stars were not suitable for me to be the All-Star third baseman that I hoped to become.

That gift of baseball shoes for Mama 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 enjoyed the advantages that come 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.”

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
© May 2012

 

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