I am so honored to say that this post was featured on one of the top Dodgers Fan sites on the web for Mother’s Day. I have had the pleasure of reading comments and similar stories from fans around the world over the last twenty four hours. Thousands of people are reading about my Ma and I can’t stop smiling about it. You can see my story on Dodgers Nation here.
Since the 2006 season, Major League Baseball players have worn pink when taking the field on Mother’s Day. In a dedicated fight against breast cancer, bearded men don pink wristbands, wear pink cleats and even wield pink bats on the second Sunday of May. With Mother’s Day on the horizon and Dodger baseball well underway, it seems like an appropriate time to share a story about baseball, cancer and my Momma.
Anyone ever forced to bear the news of a loved one’s cancer diagnosis can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the “C” word. Father Time slows his steady march to a crawl when the word is uttered. Confusion ensues, ears ring.
As the brain begins to process the gravity of the unfamiliar words at hand, they hit like an anvil to the chest
Fortunately, for our family, a strong support system of relatives and friends rallied around my mother when news of her stomach cancer diagnosis reached the edges of our social circle. As she fought for her life, undergoing chemotherapy treatments and operational procedures, my siblings and I felt love and support pour in from all directions. Friends and acquaintances held charity events, cooked dinners and even washed cars in an effort to chip in.
All the while my mother’s condition worsened. The cancer cells in her stomach were metastasizing at an uncontrollable rate, making it difficult for her to pass food regularly. Weekly chemotherapy treatments began taking their toll on her frail body. She lost weight, she lost her hair and at times… worst of all… her eternal sense of optimism. I could hear the sound of defeat in her voice.
Then one day I got a call from my mom and the excitement in her tone reached through the phone and slapped an instant smile on my face.
“Oh my God, son. Oh.. my… God! Guess who I just off the phone with?” My mother exclaimed with the exuberance of a fourteen year old girl.
“No idea Ma.” I replied through grinning teeth.
“Steve frickin’ Garvey!”
“Whaaaaat? No way!” I shouted in confusion, secretly hoping she hadn’t imagined speaking with her childhood crush in a chemo-induced hallucination. Chemo brain is no joke, but my mother hadn’t imagined a thing. As she battled cancer, a distant friend heard of my mother’s diagnosis and reached out to Mr. Garvey.
Anyone that knows my family knows that Dodger Blue blood courses through our veins. For a bunch of Los Angeles transplants living in the desert of Arizona, the Dodgers were more of an identity than a baseball team, a symbol of our past lives in Southern California, surrounded by family and citrus trees. Whenever Vin Scully’s voice hit our ears, we could taste the Dodger Dogs of yesteryear.
And no player was held in higher regard than Steve Garvey. When my Momma coached my t-ball team, she made sure I wore number six in honor of her childhood crush. She loved to tell the story about waiting for Mr. Garvey in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium after a game when she was twelve years old. Garvey pulled up in a red convertible, rolled down his window, and signed an autograph for her. She almost fainted. After my mom passed away, I found a manila envelope filled with Steve Garvey newspaper clippings and hand sketched drawings she had collected and drawn as a young girl.
She never had an Instagram, but Garvey would have definitely been her Man Crush Monday.
The few minutes that Mr. Garvey took to reach out to my mother would have been enough. His thoughtful act brought joy and light in a time of darkness. But number six didn’t stop there.
In a last ditch effort to remove the cancer cells from her stomach, my mother traveled to the City of Hope in Duarte for surgery. If time slowed to a crawl when we first learned of my mother’s diagnosis, it stood completely still as my family sat in that second floor waiting room. The longest day of our lives. When the surgeon finally appeared, the news was grim. Six months to live. How does one react to such words?
As my mother healed in the hospital after the procedure, our families’ moral sunk to unprecedented depths.
A few days after the surgery, a box arrived in her hospital room. Gifts from Mr. Garvey. My mother reached inside and pulled out a white jersey with elegant blue letters flowing across the chest. Underneath, the number six flashed in a radiant red, bringing a gasp from the mouths of family members gathered around the bed. The words, “To Ana, a Sweetheart… Fight On!” were written in blue permanent marker just above Steve Garvey’s signature.
And fight she did, until the end. But first… she smiled.
A few months after the failed surgery a friend sent word that Mr. Garvey was making a public appearance in the City of Industry. Determined to thank him for what he did for my family, I made the drive to the event and joined a long line of Dodger fans, eager to meet their favorite first baseman. As I neared the end of the line, I sensed a hint of nervousness enter my body. Will he remember us? Maybe sending gifts to sick fans is an everyday thing for baseball legends.
My apprehensions were quickly assuaged. As soon as I mentioned “Ana,” my mother’s name, Mr. Garvey’s eyes lit up.
“Oh Ana! How is she doing? What a sweetheart. I’ve been meaning to call and check up on her. You know what? Let’s call her now.”
My eyes drifted to the long line of waiting fans as he pulled out his cell phone and dialed my mother’s number. I silently prayed she would pick up, my ma was notorious for never answering her phone.
Mr. Garvey laughed and left her a voicemail. We spent a few minutes chatting and even posed for some pictures. Mr. Garvey noticed my cousin and uncle waiting behind velvet ropes and invited them over so he could sign their baseballs. What a guy. If dudes could have Man Crushes, he would have definitely been mine. Okay that sounded weird, but seriously, Garvey is the MAN.
My mom finally called me a few hours after we left the event.
“Ma! You totally missed Steve Garvey’s phone call!” I scolded her.
“Honey, I have to play hard to get and be challenging. I will call him back in a day or two and he can ask me on a proper date, the rest will be history.”
She totally big timed a big leaguer. I laughed so hard I got a cramp in my neck.
My mother lost her fight to cancer three months later, but she went down swinging, and thanks to Steve Garvey, she went back to the dugout with a smile on her face. A week after she passed I got a call from number six. And of course, forever my Momma’s son, I missed his call.