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Mom's cancer brought perspective to Walker

Mariners pitcher was motivated to work harder, stay strong for mother
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- Nellie Garcia understands the ups and downs of being the mother of a Major League player. When Taijuan Walker pitches, she sits at the edge of her seat, cringing and cajoling each delivery.

But pressure? For Garcia and her talented young son, pressure was dealing with breast cancer three years ago, when she was living in New York and Walker was pitching for Double-A Jackson.

SEATTLE -- Nellie Garcia understands the ups and downs of being the mother of a Major League player. When Taijuan Walker pitches, she sits at the edge of her seat, cringing and cajoling each delivery.

But pressure? For Garcia and her talented young son, pressure was dealing with breast cancer three years ago, when she was living in New York and Walker was pitching for Double-A Jackson.

Pressure was waiting for the test results a few weeks ago of a biopsy after she'd discovered another worrisome lump in her breast.

So while she rides the emotional waves that come with Walker's early career, she speaks with the perspective of a woman who has dealt with a lot in her own young life.

"Everything is good," Garcia said. "I just got tested again the last couple weeks. I felt a lump in my left breast. It wasn't showing up on any of the ultrasounds. They could feel it, too, but it wasn't showing on the tests. So they did a biopsy and it ended up just being tissue. It was negative. That was kind of scary, but everything is OK."

Those are the kind of real-life issues lots of families deal with, and Walker and his mom are no different. When she found out in 2012 she had breast cancer, the news rocked her son. That was a phone call she hasn't forgotten.

:: Mother's Day 2015 ::

"He doesn't cry too often," Garcia said. "But the moment he found out, he was in the clubhouse and I called him and he talked to a friend of his whose mom had cancer, too. He said he just bawled his eyes out. He said he'd never cried like that. It was hard for him to see me with no hair and all that."

"It was tough," Walker said. "But that just gave me motivation to work harder to make it up for her. I had to stay strong for her, because it was a tough time. She was in New York dealing with it by herself. I couldn't be there to help her out, so the biggest thing I could do was stay positive and keep working hard to go out there and just enjoy it and have fun for her, because she always loves watching me pitch."

While Walker finished up the second half of that season at Jackson, Garcia underwent chemotherapy, radiation treatments and surgery. She's been cancer free for two years now. And as Major League Baseball promotes breast cancer awareness with various players using pink bats, pink wristbands and the like during Sunday's Mothers Day games, Garcia offers her own advice.

"Definitely check yourself," Garcia said. "Do your own breast exams. Any little thing you feel, don't hesitate to go to the doctor. I let myself go too long because I didn't have insurance. It was a rapidly growing tumor, but I just thought it was a cyst.

"So I don't care how old you are, always check yourself. I was 37. If you think there might be a problem, demand tests. And it doesn't run in my family. I'm the first one. So just check yourself."

Garcia has four children, with Walker being the second-oldest. He had to grow up fast, leaving Yucaipa, Calif., after graduating from high school when the Mariners drafted him in 2010. But he never lost touch with his mom, and he's grateful for her persistent presence in his life.

"It was just her, so she was mother and father to me and my two brothers and sister," Walker said. "She just always supported everything I did. She was at every single game, whether it be football, basketball or baseball. She was always there for me."

That relationship remains just as strong now. Garcia surprised Walker by showing up at one of his starts last week in Houston and tries to catch a couple games a year in Seattle.

"I love seeing her up in the stands," said Walker, who is in his first full year in the Majors at 22. "Out of everyone that is cheering, she's the only one I can hear."

Garcia was a process server in California while Walker was growing up. She's been out of work since her cancer treatments, but lives now in Peoria, Ariz., near the Mariners' Spring Training facility. Garcia will be in Seattle for Mother's Day. And when she's not around, they stay in touch by phone and texts.

"We're like best friends," Garcia said. "Pretty much he can come to me with anything -- girls, friends, baseball, anything. There's no judging. I'm all about being a mom and stuff, but when it comes to Taijuan, he's a little different. He has a big heart."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.

Seattle Mariners, Taijuan Walker