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Tigers honor cancer survivor Westphal

Honorary bat girl meets team, throws out ceremonial pitch

DETROIT -- Heidi Westphal was at Comerica Park to watch the Tigers on Mother's Day last year, making the trip down from Saginaw to be with her mother. It was just a month after Westphal finished her chemotherapy for breast cancer, and she had a surprise when she met the Honorary Bat Girl, a cancer survivor herself, and her family.

Her mom remembered the experience when it came time for nominations for this year's honor. Westphal didn't know about it until she got a call. It was a Mother's Day gift she never expected.

"When I got the call from Major League Baseball that I had won, I squealed," she admitted. "I was at work, and everybody probably thought, 'What is wrong?'"

Everything is good these days after the fight of her life two years ago. Westphal was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2013. In addition to chemo treatments, she faced a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. She credits her breast cancer mentor with helping her get through it.

"She made it through breast cancer the year before me," she said, "so it was really nice to have somebody there throughout the process saying, 'Yes, this is normal,' or "No, it's not.' I think that after you have somebody go through that with you, you just want to give back. I'm just trying to give back now."

Westphal has taken part in fundraisers and awareness events, including a volleyball fundraiser named "For Love of the Bumps." When it came time for Honorary Bat Girl voting, the support was quietly there for her again.

"I am very lucky and blessed that I have a huge support system with my family and friends," she said. "Everybody voted."

Thanks to the weather, she didn't get to see batting practice before the game. Instead, Tigers players came out of the clubhouse to meet her and show their support, including closer Joakim Soria.

"He's extremely tall," she said. "It was just amazing to be in on the inner workings of everything. And it was so nice that they took time out of their scheduling beforehand to even come down and meet us. I was just hoping to go on the field and see them. Now I get to go out on the field and get to meet them. It's a double whammy."

She also got to throw out the ceremonial first pitch with fellow cancer survivors on the field watching, not to mention her family. That includes her mom, once again, for the holiday.

"My mom is a huge Tigers fan, and she wants to make it an annual event," she said. "Well, next year I'm not going to be able to top this."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.
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