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YORK -- Since she began to follow the game of baseball, Erika Rech has been a Yankees fan. So she could imagine no better way to be honored for her accomplishments benefiting those affected by breast cancer than in front of a Mother's Day crowd Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
Rech, a sophomore at the Villanova University School of Business, is the Yankees' recipient of Major League Baseball's 2012 Honorary Bat Girl Program, which recognizes fans of all clubs that have been affected by breast cancer.
"Ever since I could understand watching a Yankees game, like when I was 10 years old, I've been a Yankees fan," Rech said. "This is unbelievable. I never, in a million years, would have thought I'd be here. I'm speechless."
When Rech was 15, her mother was diagnosed with Stage Three breast cancer. In a matter of months, two of her aunts were also diagnosed. Since then, Rech and a cousin have raised more than $500,000 to aid patients and families in need through their organization Breast Intentions (wwww.breastintentions.org).
Over the last four years, the Middletown, N.J., native's charity has expanded to New York, Georgia, Massachusetts, Illinois and Connecticut. Just last year, the organization helped pay 13 mortgage payments, eight medication payments, 11 co-pays, 21 electric bills, 14 gas bills, 18 rent payments, five car payments and more. They've even helped families purchase college textbooks and arrange for lawn-mowing services.
"I experienced it firsthand, and I saw how much the bills amounted to, and our family had great insurance," Rech said. "I just thought, 'If someone didn't have great insurance, what would they do just to keep their lights on or pay the everyday bills?' I thought no woman, when they're trying to get better, should have to worry about things like that."
Rech said the organization is developing chapters in six other states, and she hopes to someday see the charity spread nationwide.
A Bat Girl from each Major League club was selected by a guest judging panel that includes MLB players and celebrities, in addition to fan votes cast on HonoraryBatGirl.com. The Honorary Bat Girl contest began in 2009.
Rech was accompanied by her mother to throw out the first pitch on Sunday before the Yankees-Mariners game and also helped to present the commemorative pink lineup cards.
On the field, players from both teams -- as well as other players around baseball -- sported pink sweatbands and gear, wielded pink Louisville Slugger bats and wore pink ribbons on their uniforms.
It was a way for the league and its players to demonstrate their support for those affected by breast cancer in a tangible way, much like the evidence Rech receives so often through Breast Intentions.
"We receive notes back from a lot of the patients and they're tearjerkers," she said. "I cry every time I read those notes. They're so grateful and so humbled. And I'm just so humbled by everything they do."