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Rays honor cancer survivor Willie Mae Footman

Inspirational teacher, leader is grandmother to Rays outfielder Mallex Smith
MLB.com @wwchastain

BALTIMORE -- Willie Mae Footman of Tallahassee, Fla., is the Rays' honorary batgirl for Mother's Day.

"I think it's great; I'm honored," Footman said.

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BALTIMORE -- Willie Mae Footman of Tallahassee, Fla., is the Rays' honorary batgirl for Mother's Day.

"I think it's great; I'm honored," Footman said.

View Full Game Coverage

Every year, each team in Major League Baseball names an honorary batgirl in support of the annual "Going To Bat Against Breast Cancer" initiative, which is traditionally commemorated on Mother's Day.

• Rays Mother's Day Gear

For the first time since the Honorary Bat Girl program started in 2009, clubs had the opportunity to select their respective honorees, each of whom has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to battling breast cancer.

• Every MLB honorary batgirl

Footman is the grandmother to Rays outfielder Mallex Smith, who said she has a great sense of humor and that she reigns as the matriarch of the family.

"She knows and talks to everybody in the family, especially all her grandchildren," Smith said. "She knows all of her children's significant others, and even her children's signficant other's children. She embraces them like her own. She knows when their birthdays are. The events they have. Everything they have going on. She is the glue of our family."

In addition to being beloved by her family, Footman is also a favorite among the kids in her community. After more than 30 years, she retired from Leon County Schools, the Tallahassee Parks and Recreation Dept., and the Girl Scouts. Throughout the years, her hard work has stood out while she balanced her three jobs.

Once Footman learned she had Stage 2 breast cancer, she hit the ground running and never looked back. Despite numerous rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, she always stayed positive and remained one step ahead of the process. Footman has now been cancer-free for more than eight years and hasn't shown signs of slowing down any time soon.

"Used to be when you had cancer, you didn't tell anybody," Footman said. "When I found out that I had breast cancer, I told everybody. I didn't keep it a secret. That made other teachers at my school go out and get checked for cancer, and some of them found that they had cancer. So I'm glad that I did that. I'm glad that I'm a survivor.

"I got through it. I just think that I was really blessed. My friends were by my side. My family was by my side when I was going through radiation and chemo."

Teams that will be on the road on Mothers Day (as the Rays are) had to select another home game to recognize their Honorary Bat Girl. That day will be May 27.

Louisville Slugger will donate proceeds from the sale of their pink bats, which will be stamped with the MLB breast cancer awareness logo, to Susan G. Komen and Stand Up To Cancer. And MLB will again donate its licensed uniform royalties through Mother's Day apparel to Susan G. Komen and Stand Up To Cancer.

Rays players who will use pink bats on Sunday include: Smith, Carlos Gomez, Denard Span, Adeiny Hechavarria, Rob Refsnyder, Matt Duffy, Daniel Robertson, Joey Wendle, Johnny Field, Jesus Sucre and Wilson Ramos.

The pink hats worn by Rays players on Sunday will be auctioned on May 22 via MLB Auctions, with the proceeds going to an as-yet-to-be-determined charity.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays, Mallex Smith