SEATTLE -- Braden Bishop understands pain. The young Mariners outfielder broke his wrist and missed half a year in the Minor Leagues in 2018. He took a 98 mph fastball to the ribs last season that resulted in a lacerated spleen, wiping out much of his rookie campaign.
But this will be a different ache on Sunday, the personal kind that hits the heart: his first Mother’s Day without his mom. So the 26-year-old will sit down and write a letter to Suzy Bishop, knowing full well she won’t see the words, but hoping the effort helps express his emotions and keeps him connected with the woman who inspires him daily.
Suzy Bishop died last October at age 59, but her spirit lives on in a pair of baseball-playing boys -- Braden and his brother, Hunter, the Giants' first-round Draft pick last year -- who push forward with the 4MOM foundation that Braden began in 2014, when his mother was first diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
“Obviously, Mother’s Day means a lot to me,” Braden said this week from Sacramento, Calif., where he’s working out and waiting for baseball season to resume. “Now that she’s gone, it takes on another meaning. We continue to honor her. We kind of see every day as our Mother’s Day and how we approach who we’re trying to affect and who we’re trying to serve. The significance of Mother’s Day brings about us trying to share what she was about, honoring her love and trying to spread that to others.”
Suzy was a track and field runner at UCLA who went on to a career as a Hollywood filmmaker. She worked as a director and producer on a number of movies and television shows, including "JAG" and "Law & Order," and won an Emmy as a producer for "Separate But Equal," an ABC mini-series about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall starring Sidney Poitier.
But as she turned her focus to being a mom and raising her boys as they got older, Alzheimer’s began robbing her of her mind and memory. As his mom’s condition deteriorated, Braden committed himself to doing whatever he could to raise funds and awareness to help fight the disease.
His own memories of his mother remain strong and are a glimpse into how he's able to carry himself with a humble appreciation for life and those around him.
“Some of my favorite memories were growing up when she was making movies and getting to be on those sets,” Bishop said. “That was the first time I’d ever seen what leadership looked like without knowing it. She was producing films, so it was seeing her vision and how she worked with all these different actors and directors.
“You see a whole spectrum of people, from the main characters to the people working in the food truck, and how she’d treat all these people with respect. Her humility and gratitude and how she made them feel like each person’s role contributed to the success of the film. It was the first time I saw somebody in a leadership position take pride in those things. Being 6, 7, 8 years old and seeing that environment, it just instilled that in me growing up. So that’s what I look for in a leader.”
Growing up behind the scenes
Bishop's mom and dad, Randy, a former policeman who now runs his own private investigator’s firm in California, were both athletic and got their sons involved in a variety of sports at an early age. But the boys also traveled often with their mom to movie shootings, and Braden recalls spending three summer months in Toronto when he was 6 or 7 years old while Suzy was producing Disney’s "The Miracle Worker" remake starring Lucas Black and a young Hallie Kate Eisenberg as Helen Keller.
“That was before Lucas Black did 'Friday Night Lights' as the quarterback, so I got to interact with him a lot and we’d play catch on set,” Bishop said. “And Hallie, who went on to become the ‘Pepsi Girl’ in the commercials, she was the main character and we were about the same age. So whenever she wasn’t acting, we’d be hanging out. It was really cool. Those people were famous actors and I was like 7 years old, so that was the first time I got star struck.”
The good memories are plentiful. So, too, are the more-painful recollections of his mom’s mind slipping away as Alzheimer’s stole her memory. It’s a hard story, but one the Bishops believe needs telling so people can comprehend and try to avoid similar fates in the future.
From humble beginnings, when he simply wrote "4MOM" on his arm in black pen while playing games at the University of Washington, Braden has grown a charity that now employs five people in Phoenix to help organize all its fundraisers and projects.
Those efforts are highlighted on the 4MOM website, including a video that provides an inside glimpse into Suzy Bishop’s struggles after her diagnosis. A full-fledged documentary film is underway that will be released next February and rolled out as part of a nationwide tour of fundraising walk-a-thons and an Alzheimer's Awareness conference.
'It'll be a story of sadness, but also understanding'
Braden said the documentary is being constructed by producer friends of his mom. And while it’s hard to watch your own mother’s struggles replayed in front of your eyes, it’s something he cherishes at the same time.
“I think it’ll be a story of sadness, but also understanding and happiness,” he said. “I’m just excited for people to see her whole story. What better way to honor a film producer’s memory than with a film?”
Bishop recalls being with the Mariners in 2017 as a young Minor League hopeful in Spring Training, when an original shorter video was produced and sent to him so he could review it.
“We’d just come back from a game in Surprise [Ariz.], and I got off the bus and was sitting in the clubhouse,” Bishop said. “I started watching on my phone, which obviously was a mistake. Leonys Martin was sitting to my left, and I’m bawling in my locker. He just looked at me like, ‘What the heck is wrong with this guy?’ But yeah, it’s super powerful.”
It’s that story that Bishop wants to continue sharing with the world, allowing others to get a glimpse of who his mom was and how she continues to inspire him and others to push for a cure for Alzheimer’s. There was the Suzy Bishop of his youth, the vibrant filmmaker and mom. And there was the Suzy Bishop of recent years, the caring woman who suddenly needed to be cared for herself.
And just as she made sure to be inclusive with the entire spectrum of people involved in her work producing a score of movies and TV shows over her career, the Bishop family looks to remember both sides of Suzy's life and what she meant to them as they honor her on Mother’s Day and beyond.
“I always explain it like, we loved this one person and she got sick and we said goodbye and learned to love this new person,” Braden said. “And then we had to say goodbye to her, as well.”