A message of hope at the plate
Posted in , Oct 1, 2006
I make my living swinging a bat. Ballplayers are particular when it comes to bats. Real particular. Different weights, different lengths, different wood.
When a bat doesn't feel or look right, we toss it; and when a bat gets the slightest crack in it, it's useless. A single player can go through 12 dozen bats a season, easy.
We were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates on Mother's Day this year and the talk in the locker room was all about bats. Pink bats. Major League Baseball was promoting breast-cancer awareness. Any player could wear a pink ribbon, pink wristbands or use a pink bat.
"You gonna use the pink?" one guy asked. "I dunno," another said. "I've been on a streak, and I don't wanna mess it up using a new gamer."
I'm not really superstitious, but a lot of players are. I could understand not wanting to change anything when you're hot. Truthfully, there was a time when I might've found the whole idea kind of silly. A pink bat? But not now. I'd made a promise to my wife, Erin, that I'd use it.
Her aunt Betsy died from breast cancer this past April, at age 47. She'd left behind four kids.
When I first told Erin about maybe using a pink bat, tears came to her eyes. She hugged me, hard. Then she told everyone she knew. No doubt about it. I'd be swinging a pink bat on Mother's Day.
I went out on the field that morning and grabbed the pink bat. Felt like any other Louisville Slugger. But how did it hit? I stepped into the cage. The coach tossed me an easy one. Thwack! High fly to the outfield. Not bad. Thwack! Drive up the middle.
This bat was fine for a gamer. Another pitch. Crack! My hands stung for a second. I looked at the bat. The wood was splintered right near the handle.
That's a problem. It was the only pink bat I'd been sent. I wrapped the handle tight with athletic tape. Like we used to do as kids when we only had one bat.
But this was the big leagues. You never go to the plate with a broken bat, tape or no tape. But I'd made a promise.
In the first inning our shortstop slapped a single and stole second. The next batter got hit by a pitch and took first. Then a wild pitch let both guys advance. Miguel Cabrera, batting cleanup, stood at the plate.
I went out to the on-deck circle with my fractured pink bat. Cabrera drove one deep, and a run scored.
I strode to the plate. Maybe the bat had enough in it to sneak a ball through the infield. I thought about bunting, but this wasn't a bunt situation.
Then I thought about Aunt Betsy and the terrible disease that had taken her from her four children. Baseball means a lot to me—it's my livelihood—but fighting a disease like breast cancer means more.
That's why I'd promised my wife I'd use the pink bat. That promise was even more important to me than getting a hit.
I stared at the Pirates pitcher, Ian Snell. He had a good slider. But I was sitting on his fastball. I cocked the bat over my shoulder. It felt good, solid.
Please, God, keep this bat in one piece. Snell got the sign from the catcher, wound up, pitched. The ball blew right by me. "Strike!" the ump growled. I stepped out of the box, adjusted my gloves.
Snell wound up again. I was ready. I swung, made contact and heard the sweetest sound a hitter can hear. That crack when you know the ball's going yard. It flew high and deep, to right. The right fielder watched it disappear over the wall.
Trotting around the bases, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I'd just hit a home run with a pink bat. A broken pink bat. That's not supposed to happen.
But you know something? Amazing things happen when you keep a promise. And not just home runs.
That's why we need to keep a promise to do what we can to defeat a disease that's taken too many women—too many mothers, daughters, sisters—away.
Joe Borchard, an outfielder for the Florida Marlins in the 2006-07 season, has also played for the Chicago White Sox.