Jerome Williams had an inkling something was wrong during his sophomore season at Waipahu High near Honolulu.
“She wasn’t coming to any of my games or anything,” Williams said. “Every time I came back from a game, she’d be asleep already.”
Eventually, they couldn't hide it from him any more. Williams found out that his mother, Deborah, was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. That was in 1996. Within two years, doctors thought they had contained, isolated and destroyed the disease, and Deborah Williams seemed to be on the road to a full recovery.
But in November 2000, barely over a year after her son had been drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the first round, Deborah Williams lost vision in her left eye while driving with her son and husband between Las Vegas and San Diego. Subsequent tests turned up another tumor, one that would, in short order, take Williams’ mother out of his life, at the age of 43, and before he could express -- or even realize -- what she meant to him.
Mother's Day can be a painful anniversary for people who lost their moms prematurely. For Williams, the Angels’ No. 5 starter, it brings back a flood of memories, and some regrets for the way he behaved before his mother's death.
“At the time, I was young, I was dumb and I didn’t really want to stay around,” Williams said. “I wanted to be away from it, so when I went back home, my mom was inside our house and I would make sure I wouldn’t be home.
“I’d be going out, hanging with my friends, buying stuff, having fun, drinking. At the time, I didn’t really worry about it or care. I just cared about myself.”
There was a moment, only months from the end of her life, when Williams finally started to realize what he was about to lose or, maybe in some ways, had already lost. His father, Glen Williams Sr., ordered him to stay in the house and spend time with his mother.
Throughout Williams’ childhood, his father was out of the house by 5:30 a.m. to get to work at the shipyards in Pearl Harbor, where he worked as a carpenter. Deborah was a housewife. She was the nurturing voice in her three boys' ears. She would remind her husband that, in the home, he was a father, not a Little League coach.
Williams eventually listened to his father and approached his mother’s sickbed. Then came one of the most jarring moments of his life.
“The first words out of my mom’s mouth were, ‘What are you doing here? Get the hell out of my face,’ “ Williams said. “That blew me away. I left for like three days and didn’t come home.”
Williams had a lot on his plate that winter, a dizzying amount. In addition to a critically ill mother, he and his girlfriend had just had their first child, Tre-Jordan. Jerome Williams was 19 years old.
“I started thinking about my mom and it dawned on me: You only have one,” Williams said.
Williams eventually started spending more time with his mother that winter, but before long she was admitted to hospice care and he had to ship off to spring training. A couple of months later, in spring training 2001, he was in Scottsdale, Ariz., when he got a call at 3 a.m. that he had been dreading. It was his brother, who said “You’ve got to come home.”
“It kind of still hits me to this day, all the stuff I didn’t do that hurt her,” Williams said.
Now, more than a decade after her death, he's doing something to bring attention to her cause. More than that: to celebrate her life.
He is the only major league baseball player to wear a pink glove. It’s his way of paying tribute to the woman who raised and protected him. He also wears remnants of the puka-shell necklace she left him sprinkled inside his spikes and glued to the inside of his cap.
He picked up the pink Zett-model glove while pitching in Taiwan two seasons ago, wore it at Triple-A and, after a long road back from obscurity, brought it to a major league mound in September. First, Williams agonized over it and even sent a clubhouse attendant over to clear it with the umpires. He gave up one hit over eight innings against the Seattle Mariners that night and has worn it ever since.
For a guy who had pitched all around the globe -- from Taiwan to Puerto Rico to Venezuela to Mexico to independent ball -- just getting back on a major league field was a thrill.
On Saturday, as usual, he'll honor his mother. Knowing now, as he does every start, that he doesn't need to wait for a holiday to appreciate her.