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Nationals recognize Honorary Bat Girl Bennett

Breast cancer survivor honored on video board, presents lineup card

WASHINGTON -- When Nell Bennett received her breast cancer diagnosis in August 2011, she didn't dwell on it. Her focus turned immediately to overcoming the challenge.

"I've always been a person that when there's something that comes up and there's nothing you can do about it, you accept it and move forward," Bennett said. "I was never scared, I was never upset. It was just, 'OK, let's just do this.' I felt I could handle this, and I'm glad if God had to give someone breast cancer, I'm glad he gave it to me and not someone who couldn't handle it."

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Now cancer-free following a brutal year of chemotherapy, radiation treatments and a double mastectomy, Bennett was recognized on Sunday as the Nationals' Honorary Bat Girl. She is one of 30 contest winners -- one for each team -- who have been affected by breast cancer and demonstrated a commitment to fighting the disease.

As part of the "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" initiative celebrated each Mother's Day, Bennett was honored on the video board before the Nationals' series finale against the Cubs. She then took Washington's lineup card to home plate, where she met with the umpiring crew. Acting crew chief Angel Hernandez gave her one of his pink wristbands.

Bennett lives in San Antonio, Texas, but her brother, Tim, lives in Alexandria, Va., and has been coming to Nationals games since the beginning. He was the one who entered her in the contest.

"It's an honor," Nell Bennett said. "I've been here several times, because he's such a big Nationals fan."

Meeting the umpires held special meaning for Bennett, a longtime fast-pitch softball umpire. Although her knees now prevent her from suiting up, she trains and evaluates NCAA Division I umpires.

Baseball also has been a part of Bennett's life. Her mother, Marion, was a huge fan and also passed along the qualities that allowed Bennett to beat cancer.

"She's the strongest woman I've ever known," Bennett said of her mother, a widow who raised eight children. "She never flinched, never complained. I really drew strength from her."

That toughness made things easier on Bennett's family. Not only was she relentlessly positive, but she would send a long text message every time she went in for treatment, letting everyone know how she was doing.

"It really made a difference," said Tim Bennett, who accompanied his sister to the ballpark on Sunday. "I hate to say it, but I'm glad it happened to her, too, because of all of us, she's the strongest."

Since Bennett finished treatment in November, her oncologist requested that she come in to talk with new patients about what to expect. Some of the same qualities that make a good umpire also make for a good counselor.

"She said she's never had a patient who was so cool, calm and collected about it," Bennett said.

Andrew Simon is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @HitTheCutoff.

Washington Nationals