Walsh empowered by daily reminders of mom

Walsh empowered by daily reminders of mom

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers rookie Colin Walsh remembers getting the news in 2011, two days before he departed for his first full season in the Cardinals' Minor League chain. His mother, Erin, a former nationally ranked youth tennis player whom Colin credits for his athleticism, had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

His baseball career must go on, Erin told her son, who began brainstorming ways to pay tribute to mom. Colin came up with a subtle but meaningful idea.

Brewers Mother's Day Collection

"I wanted her to know I was thinking about her," Colin Walsh said.

Before every game, Walsh pulls on bright pink socks to wear under his uniform, offering a daily reminder of mom's fight. He also wears a pink rubber bracelet on his arm that is sometimes visible to Erin when she watches games from the family's San Diego home.

"It was all quite unexpected; I'm not in any of the profiles [for cancer risk], so we were all pretty shocked," Erin Walsh said. "But there was nothing anyone could do. We just had to go through the process."

Growing up, Colin Walsh said, his parents were a constant presence, attending every baseball game until he went away to college at Stanford. His father was a commercial real estate agent, and mom worked as a property manager.

"I always joke that I get my athleticism from my mom and my competitiveness from dad," Colin Walsh said. "My dad, my brother and I are all ultra-competitive. But my mom was just a natural athlete."

The cancer diagnosis came in late February 2011, and Erin Walsh underwent a mastectomy that April. From the start of her treatment, she urged Colin to focus on baseball while she healed. There was one caveat; more than anything, she wanted to see him get his diploma at Stanford in June.

The Cardinals, who had drafted Walsh the year before, helped make it happen. They flew Walsh from Chicago to California for the ceremony, by which time Erin was cleared to travel. A photo from that afternoon is one of her most prized possessions.

"It was everything I had looked forward to," Erin said. "Then he got right back on a plane and headed back to make his game.

"But I got to see him walk in the stadium. I was pretty shaky at the time, going through chemotherapy. It was a huge moment to me. It was my goal."

The family was together again for Colin's first big league Opening Day at Miller Park. After a series of difficult complications in the years following her diagnosis, Erin Walsh is healthy, and nearing a critical anniversary of being cancer-free.

"It's been a long fight," Colin said. "Not something I would wish on anybody."

"By no means are we anything special," Erin added. "A lot of families have gone through it."

On Mother's Day, Colin will get to wear pink on the outside, too. Players around Major League Baseball will wear pink cleats and armbands and swing pink bats, with much of that equipment later auctioned to raise funds for breast cancer awareness and research.

Erin will be watching, as usual.

"I think there's been a stigma for a very, very long time, and I sometimes experience it, still," Erin Walsh said. "Like, something is wrong with you. No one wants to talk about [cancer]. I think teams doing the pink bats and other things help make it something that's OK to talk about.

"With so many young women being diagnosed, I think it's great that there are men who are willing to bring awareness to this, too. That's a big deal."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.