OAKLAND -- Days off are rare in baseball, so whenever one comes up, players make sure to cherish it. The A’s most recent day off had an extra-special meaning for Stephen Piscotty.
The off-day fell on May 6, which happened to be the one-year anniversary of the passing of his mother, Gretchen, after a long battle with ALS. With the A’s in town getting set for a six-game homestand, the day off afforded Piscotty the opportunity to get together with his two brothers, Austin and Nicholas, and his father, Mike.
Paying tribute to Gretchen, the Piscottys decided to go for a hike on a backside trail of Lake Del Valle in Livermore, Calif. It was Gretchen’s favorite hike, and being only about a 20-minute drive from their childhood home in Pleasanton, one she often took after dropping off Stephen and his brothers at school.
“I think she felt like she was free to not have to worry about us for a little while,” Piscotty said. “She would go and celebrate by doing that hike, and that’s a special place for us now.”
His mother never leaves his thoughts, but with the recent anniversary, Piscotty has found himself thinking about her even more than usual. That will likely continue through Sunday when he takes the field at the Coliseum on Mother’s Day.
It will be the first Mother's Day Piscotty will play in since Gretchen’s passing. He did not play last year as he spent a few days away from the team preparing for her celebration of life, which took place the day after Mother’s Day. Piscotty has thought about this day for a while now, but he has no idea what he’ll be feeling once he takes the field.
“I don’t entirely know,” Piscotty said. “Not sure if it will be emotional or not.”
Though Piscotty missed out on the Mother’s Day game last year, when he did return to the A’s, he provided his mother with the ultimate tribute.
One day after his mother’s celebration of life, Piscotty boarded an early-morning flight from Oakland to Boston to rejoin the club at Fenway Park for a game later that night. Piscotty was expecting to get a break given that it was his first day back -- maybe at most a pinch-hit appearance. Just before leaving the team hotel for the stadium, A’s manager Bob Melvin sent Piscotty a text asking if he was ready to play. The ball was in Piscotty’s court, and given his competitive nature, there was no way he was going to say no.
He found himself in the starting lineup that night, batting sixth. What transpired in his first at-bat was something straight out of a movie.
Piscotty fell behind in the count 0-2 against Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez, with the second pitch a fastball that blew right past him for strike two.
“I remember seeing the first couple of pitches and thinking my timing is way off,” Piscotty said.
The next pitch was a cutter -- boom. Piscotty launched a solo home run completely over the green monster and onto Lansdowne Street, producing one of the most emotional moments in MLB history.
“I had no business hitting a home run,” Piscotty said. “I think she came down and helped me for that swing. It was a special moment for my whole family and something to cheer about. It was a crazy day, I never would have foreseen that happening.”
The A’s dugout erupted as the ball left the park. Just before finishing off his trip around the bases, Piscotty patted his chest three times at home plate, a tribute he has continued to this day after each of his home runs.
“The home run, it goes beyond impressive,” Melvin said. “It’s almost like something else took over. You should have heard our dugout when he hit the home run. It was like a playoff home run.
“Just to watch him go through it and finally get back to who he was and be such a big part of this team, he’s not the most vocal guy in the world, but he’s one of the more respected guys in our clubhouse and his personality just comes out through his actions. We all felt it for him and it was just so impressive to see him put together the type of year he did with what he had to deal with.”
No matter how mentally strong one can be, what Piscotty went through was extremely difficult. The pain never goes away, but when Piscotty went to the ballpark the rest of the season after her passing, it served as a therapeutic experience for him. It was an opportunity to just focus on baseball for a few hours. The result was a career year for the right fielder, who finished the 2018 season with a career-high 27 home runs and 88 RBIs.
The passing a loved one usually puts things into perspective. For Piscotty, it was a reminder that while baseball is his passion, there’s more to life than the game -- something his mother often made sure to remind him of throughout his career.
“One of my favorite things about my Mom and something that I really do miss is she was always the first one there to remind me there is more to life than baseball,” Piscotty said. “It’s a huge part of my life that has done tremendous things for me, but there are things outside that are more important. She was always the first one to remind me of that. My wife does a great job of doing that, but I miss her influence in that regard.”
The memories the two shared are endless and probably enough to fill up a novel. Plenty were made through baseball as she traveled around the state to watch her three boys, but Piscotty often thinks about the off-the-field moments.
“I just remember how much she loved being outside and me always wanting to go do stuff with her,” Piscotty said. “Whether it was riding horses or camping. Those were the good times, ones I really miss.”
It’ll be a large contingent in the stands cheering on Piscotty on Sunday -- one that includes his father, two brothers, grandparents, and aunt and uncle. But it won’t be too different. Now that Piscotty plays for the hometown club, his family comes out to plenty of games throughout the season.
"It’ll be awesome,” Piscotty said. “It’s almost like another day since they can come all the time. We’ll see how Sunday goes.”