Piscotty able to find moments of relief, even joy
Outfielder, day after emotional return, reflects on mother's battle with ALS
OAKLAND -- The words did not escape Stephen Piscotty in this moment. It would have been understandable if they had, given the circumstances. But the A's outfielder, sprinkled with questions by a crowd of mostly strangers hovering over him in the home dugout Wednesday morning, channeled the bravery mom Gretchen so strongly radiated during her yearlong battle with ALS and wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity to talk about her.
For nearly nine minutes, he spoke with such grace, revealing an impassioned gratitude from the depths of heartbreak.
It was his third day without mom. They haven't been easy, the grief overwhelming. But Piscotty has found brief moments of relief, even joy, through it all. His A's family has made sure of that.
Michael Piscotty, Stephen's father, got the royal treatment from the right-field bleacher crew at the Coliseum during Tuesday's game -- Stephen's first since Gretchen's passing. His son had just recorded a hit in his first at-bat -- an emotional scene for everyone that witnessed it -- and Michael was seen immersed among the right-field fanatics, their chanting and drumming often the heartbeat of this place.
Michael was invited to take the drumsticks, and he obliged, much to the delight of a certain onlooker from the A's dugout.
"It meant a lot to me, and I know it meant a lot to him and to my entire family," Stephen said. "We feel so at home here. The fans, the right-field crew out there have embraced us with open arms. I cracked a few smiles looking up there with the drumsticks in their hands. That was cool."
Five months have passed since the Cardinals swung a trade with the A's. It was a business deal, by and large, but the implications were twofold; Piscotty, no longer 2,000 miles away from mom and dad, could live with them in Pleasanton, Calif., and enjoy a 25-minute drive to work. He could help care for Gretchen. Hug her, love her. Brothers Austin and Nick did the same.
The trade was life-altering. The four Piscotty men showered Gretchen with around-the-clock care right up until the moment she died Sunday evening in the family's home.
"I wouldn't have traded that for the world," Piscotty said. "I can't imagine being 2,000 miles away or in a different place and not being around what all's been going. The trade has meant the world to me, and I know it did to my mom. Being able to really share every last moment together was something that just warms my heart. I'm so grateful for it. I'm at a loss for words. I'm just so glad to be home."
Gretchen remains near. This Piscotty knows, reminded of it often Wednesday when he returned to the comforting confines of the ballpark.
"All day, I didn't feel alone," he said. "I felt like someone was with me. I had a round in batting practice where I hit five homers out of five, and I've never done that. That's not me. I didn't feel alone. I felt like there was someone with me yesterday. I know it was her. She was with up there during that at-bat."
Piscotty acknowledged his mom with a simple, stirring gesture, tapping his heart while he was adorned with applause, from teammates, fans and the Astros.
"The hand over my heart, that's something my mom would do when she wasn't able to speak," he said. "It was just, 'I love you and thank you.' That's what I did in the box. I'm going to keep that with me."
The outfielder promptly singled, emotions reverberating in and all around him. Later, Michael was on the videoboard telling him, "Thatta boy."
"He's worked so, so hard. I thank him so much," Piscotty said. "I love him. He worked so hard throughout the progression of this disease. I just love him a lot.
"There's been a lot of care. With ALS, it robs you of many things. When you can't move and you can't talk, I'm sure people can imagine how difficult that is. There's a lot of lifting and getting my mom in certain chairs in comfortable places, making sure the mask is on and making sure she's getting food and fluids, medications. It was a full-time job, so to speak, and I know he was exhausted."
The Piscottys will honor Gretchen with a celebration of life service on Monday. Stephen will break from the A's when they depart for New York on Wednesday evening and rejoin them in Boston on Tuesday. He will surely grieve, he says, while simultaneously summoning the kind of strength his mom showed even when she physically had none.
Then he will use what's leftover to help fund research for the ALS Therapy Development Institute, which is dedicated to finding a cure for the debilitating disease that takes so much from so many. Piscotty has deemed it his mission, "prepared to accept it."
"I can't imagine what she was going through, what she was feeling," he said. "Putting on that front like she was OK. I think she was doing that for us. She was just so strong. That was one of things we stressed in the last week as things were kind of shaping to kind of be the end -- just making sure she knew how impressed we were and proud of her we were for how hard she fought.
"She's just a warrior. That's something that's at the front of my mind that I'm always going to remember, just how tough she is."