Why Edwin Jackson writes 'CB' on his cap

August 19th, 2019

Before every time Edwin Jackson takes the mound for the Tigers, he writes on his cap the initials of a man he never met.

He was hoping to meet Curt Balius last summer when the Athletics called him up to pitch in Detroit. Kevin Visser, the personal pitching instructor who helped Jackson rediscover his old biomechanics and return to the Majors a year earlier, had set it up for his childhood friend Bailus to watch Jackson pitch at Comerica Park. But multiple myeloma -- a cancer that forms in plasma cells -- left Balius too weak to make the trip from his home in Flint.

Jackson tossed six innings with a lone run that day, starting him on the midsummer roll that revived his career and sparked the A’s, his 13th Major League team, to a postseason berth. He kept in touch with Balius along the way, sending him caps and other memorabilia, telling him to keep fighting.

“When Curt was first sick, he was in really bad shape the first six months,” Balius’ wife, Erika Revette-Balius, explained. “And baseball was the one thing that really sparked interest. Edwin was with the Athletics, and Kevin really talked him up.”

It was the least he could do, Jackson said. Besides, any friend of Visser is a friend of his. The two bonded even before Visser worked with Jackson to lower his arm angle, regain old velocity and find the bite that had been missing in his slider.

Visser and Balius played baseball together growing up in Flint. While Visser has worked with amateur and pro players for more than two decades, Balius became a fixture in the Flint youth baseball scene, having coached his son Gavin on a travel squad that won a tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Balius was also a lifelong Tigers fan who remembered Jackson from his All-Star season with the Tigers in 2009. He would’ve loved to see Jackson pitch again in a Detroit uniform when he returned two weeks ago. But Balius’ two-year battle with multiple myeloma ended on June 11, while Jackson was pitching for the Blue Jays.

Balius was just 51 years old. In addition to his wife, he is survived by sons Gavin and Nolan.

Jackson wrote “CB” on his cleats for his next start with the Blue Jays. He was hoping to pitch for the Jays at Comerica Park in July, but eventually made it there with the Tigers instead.

When the Tigers called Jackson up from Triple-A Toledo to start against the Royals on Aug. 9, he had a cheering section. Visser, who had driven back and forth from Charlotte to Michigan several times to see Balius, made the trip once more to see Jackson. He brought Erika and Gavin with him.

Erika wasn’t sure she was ready for it, the emotions still fresh, the aftermath exhausting. But a friend suggested it might lift her spirits.

“It really helped,” Erika said. “It made me feel a little bit better. And I know it made Gavin feel better. He's 15 and having a hard time.”

Jackson knew Visser was at the game but didn’t know the Balius family would be there. Still, he wrote “CB” on his cap. Though viewers watching on TV could see the initials, neither Visser nor the Baliuses realized it as they watched from the stands. Not until Visser and Gavin met Jackson outside the Tigers clubhouse after the game, Jackson’s first win as a Tiger in 10 years, did they find out.

Jackson came out of the clubhouse expecting to see Visser. When he was introduced to Balius’ son, he quickly dashed back into the clubhouse to grab his cap.

“‘I've been putting ‘CB’ on for your dad,’” Visser remembers Jackson saying when he came back out. “And he signed the hat right in front of him. It was extremely emotional. I get tears even thinking about it.”

“It was incredible,” Erika said. They were on cloud nine. Gavin didn't stop smiling from ear to ear. The hat was cool, but then we saw the pictures.”

Like Visser, her voice cracked up recounting it.

“I know he's up there grinning from ear to ear,” she said. “It's a huge deal for our family.”

Once word got around Flint, the pictures of the initials on Jackson’s cap circulated on social media. It says a lot about the impact Balius made during his 51 years. It also says a lot about Jackson.

“I always tell people Edwin is a better person than he is a pitcher,” Visser said, “and he's had a great career.”

That could’ve been the end of the story. But when Jackson made his next start five days later, he again had “CB” written on his cap. Again, he picked up a win. Asked after the game what he would do with that cap, Jackson smiled.

“I’m going to keep this one for myself,” he said.

Jackson starts again for the Tigers on Monday night against the Astros in Houston.