This Sunday will mark 18-year-old Kaitlon Busser's first Mother's Day without her mom, who passed away two months ago because of what Kaitlon calls a "cowardly disease" -- breast cancer.
"She taught me true strength, showed me how to be brave even during life's toughest moments, and helped me to understand the value of life," Busser wrote. "My mother will always be my pink warrior. There is nothing I would rather do than go to bat against breast cancer by being an Honorary Bat Girl in her name on the first Mother's Day I will not be able to share with her."
Busser's moving story is an all-too-familiar one, and one she shared on HonoraryBatGirl.com as her mother's beloved Cubs were about to start this season. On Monday, Kaitlon was one of 30 people recognized by Major League Baseball for raising awareness of breast cancer and demonstrating a commitment of "Going to Bat" in the fight against the disease.
The 30 winners, one per MLB club, will be recognized on the field at Major League ballparks this Sunday for Mother's Day -- or at a future home game later this month if their club is away this weekend, as is the case with Busser and the Cubs. Each winner was selected by a guest judging panel that included MLB players and celebrities in addition to fan votes on HonoraryBatGirl.com.
During MLB's annual Mother's Day national day of recognition, Honorary Bat Girls will take part in pregame activities, be honored during an on-field ceremony and will receive pink MLB merchandise and two tickets to the game.
Nine-time Grammy award winner Bonnie Raitt, who lost her brother and close friends to cancer, recorded a special video at the MLB Fan Cave to lend her support to the Honorary Bat Girl initiative and the ongoing fight to eradicate the disease. The video is now available at MLB.com and will be shown in ballparks as well.
Also on Mother's Day, hundreds of MLB players are expected to use pink Louisville Sluggers, stamped with the MLB breast cancer awareness logo. To further demonstrate their support for the fight against breast cancer, players and on-field personnel will wear a pink ribbon on their uniforms along with pink wrist bands. Commemorative dugout lineup cards also will be pink.
The guest judging panel for the Honorary Bat Girl program included Phillies pitcher Joe Blanton, whose mom is a breast cancer survivor, Braves outfielder Jason Heyward, whose aunt passed away from lung cancer, Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick, whose best friend's mom is a breast cancer survivor and Giants pitcher Barry Zito, whose mom was affected by cancer. Also on the panel was MLB Network host Chris Rose, who has several close friends who have been affected by the disease, international soccer star Mia Hamm, supporter of the Honorary Bat Girl initiative with husband and former All-Star Nomar Garciaparra, whose grandmother passed away from breast cancer and "Desperate Housewives" actor James Denton, who lost his mother to breast cancer.
"At first, I didn't know how much I would need to do," Heyward said. "But after reading people's testimonies, it really didn't matter. If it was one page or two pages, I didn't have any problem reading them through. I like to help with anything related to any form of cancer. I know some people like to pinpoint it because they have their own testimonies based on experience. But for me, any time I can be a part of it somehow, it has its own sentimental meaning."
In some cases, the people honored in the Honorary Bat Girl program will be those fighting the disease personally, and in some cases in will be those who have been such inspirational supporters. Busser wrote in her story on HonoraryBatGirl.com that she first heard the words "mother" and "cancer" in the same sentence when she was in fifth grade.
"Throughout the rest of middle school and high school, my mother had three relapses, with her last one diagnosing her with Stage IV breast cancer," Kaitlon wrote.
The surviving daughter walked 60 miles in three days as part of an effort that helped raised more than $42,000 for Susan G. Komen for the Cure. She wanted to share this story with others, and it was obvious in her words that the upcoming tribute at Wrigley Field will be a poignant and appropriate one, in front of a large crowd.
"Through her own track, volleyball, basketball, and softball success in high school, and her preference of ESPN over TLC, it was obvious to all that my mom was a sports fanatic," Busser wrote. "She always had a strong passion for the Chicago Cubs and Bears. The atmosphere of a sports event put a special glow in her eyes, especially while watching her own children on the field or court."