Commentary

In appreciation of baseball moms

Take time out this Mother's Day to remember who got you to the game!

Originally Published: May 10, 2014
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

Kansas City Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain sat at his locker inside the visitors clubhouse at Safeco Field in Seattle on Thursday, a pair of pink running shoes and a pair of pink baseball spikes at his feet, a pair of pink batting gloves nearby. He was eager to wear them on Mother's Day to salute the woman who raised him and his older brother while working two jobs.

"I love her to death," Cain said of his mother, Patricia. "I'll have my cleats on and my batting gloves, the whole deal. I'm going to enjoy the moment, and I just hope I can get a lot of hits that day. Maybe hit a home run."

Former poet laureate Donald Hall once wrote "Baseball is fathers and sons playing catch." That certainly is a familiar image -- it's the final shot we see in "The Natural" and the scene that reduces us to tears at the end of "Field of Dreams." Fathers are often credited for their role in raising major leaguers.

[+] EnlargeMother's Day
Paul Spinelli/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesOrder of the day: pink shoes and bats to honor mom.

Mothers, though? Not so much. Too often, baseball is mothers being taken for granted.

Actually, it's even worse than that. When it comes to everything a mother does for a kid playing ball, Seattle catcher John Buck says, "You're not even to the point you can take it for granted because you don't even know it's going on."

Mothers mostly go unnoticed, but they are every bit as crucial in a ballplayer's development as the father who teaches him how to throw a curve or hit a slider. They drive us to practice. They wash our uniforms. They work the concession stands. They keep score. They huddle on uncomfortable bleachers to cheer for us on cold, drizzly evenings.

In other words, moms do the work while dads often sit in the dugout.

"Dads enjoy the fun aspects of it," Mariners pitcher Chris Young said, "and moms take care of all the little things that go unappreciated."

Mariners catcher Mike Zunino's father, Greg, is a scout with the Reds, which meant that his mother, Paola, was the one who coordinated Mike's hectic ball schedule.

"She was the person who had to keep everything in line when we were traveling and playing ball," Zunino said.

And just in case Zunino needed any tips, he could always turn to his mom for help there, too. She had been the catcher on Italy's national softball team.

How do mothers do it all? Where do they possibly find the time to get us to games while also working a job (perhaps two or three) and cooking our dinners and keeping us clean and raising us? Especially when they are single moms, which was the case for Patricia Cain as well as for Nellie Garcia, mother of Seattle pitcher Taijuan Walker.

"Honestly, I have no clue how she did it. She was like a super woman," Walker said. "And it wasn't just me. My older brother played sports. She would be at my games, and she was working all the time. I don't know how she got from work to my games, to my brother's games, to take my other brother or sister somewhere, too.

"Warming up, I would look around and not see her. Then in the first inning, I would hear, 'Go, T.T.!' She was at every one of my high school games. She has just always been there, always been supportive. She would never let me down."

[+] EnlargeJose Fernandez
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyThe Marlins' Jose Fernandez didn't wait for Mother's Day. He gave his mom this kiss on Opening Day.

Nellie also kept her son motivated.

"She would say, 'What was that today? You're better than that -- come on now!'" Walker said. "She would tell me straight up, 'You sucked today.' I would say, 'Thanks, Mom. That makes me feel good.' 'Well, you'll get them next time.'

"It was tough love, and you need tough love. If she had said, 'You did soooo good' when I did bad, it wouldn't really be motivating me to get better. Her telling me I sucked -- that motivated me to go out next time and do better."

Nellie developed breast cancer a couple of years ago, but she has been cancer-free for the past year. Not that the cancer ever weakened her support for her son.

"She was strong, so she made me strong," Walker said. "She wanted me to go out and play better because it made her feel better."

Cain's father died when he was 4. Afterward, his mother worked so much to raise Lorenzo and his brother -- she would often wake up at 5 a.m., go to work at one job, return home for an hour in the afternoon, then work another job until midnight -- that the outfielder says he purposely didn't play organized sports until high school so she would not be further burdened.

"I didn't want to put any more added pressure on her to get me to this place or that place," he said.

Buck might not have appreciated all his mother, Linda, did when he was a kid, but he does now that she is gone. He has three children of his own; and because he is on the road so often, the burden of raising them falls to his wife, Brooke.

"It definitely gives me a lot more gratitude to what my mom did because I see my wife doing it -- the amount of love and the sacrifice," he said. "I think, 'Damn, my mom did all this for me?' As a kid, you don't realize."

We should realize, though. We should thank our moms for everything they do and did. And, although we never can thank them enough, we can at least take time to honor them today, on Mother's Day. If not with a home run or a couple of hits, then at least with some flowers, a hug and a deep appreciative, "Happy Mother's Day!"

"They do get ignored," Cain said. "They need a lot more love than what they get."

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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