Bat Girl Contest judges have star power

Actresses Song, Aduba helping MLB in fight vs. cancer

Bat Girl Contest judges have star power

As entries continue through April 12 for the 2017 Honorary Bat Girl Contest, there is a formidable cast of guest judges charged with poring over submissions at HonoraryBatGirl.com and somehow choosing 30 winners -- one for each Major League Baseball club -- from among stories that are all powerful studies of courage in the face of breast cancer.

Brenda Song and Uzo Aduba, stars of popular TV series and Stand Up To Cancer ambassadors, are honored to take up that challenge. Song's mother is fighting for a fourth time since first being diagnosed 13 years ago. Aduba lost a close family friend two years ago, lost a cousin just four months ago and has an aunt who is battling the disease. The two actresses bring an utmost appreciation for their role as guest judges, touched by so many who share their personal stories of strength on this eighth annual platform for hope, solidarity and awareness.

"Just being able to hear people tell their stories, it fills people with hope," said Song, star of the CBS drama "Pure Genius" and a longtime Disney Channel favorite. "A lot of times, it only takes one story to change lives. To some people, the outlook seems bleak and the journey seems so long, and to hear from others, you don't feel like you are alone in the battle. You are not alone."

"I approach it sensitively, I approach it with care, and I hope I approach it with love and understanding and respect," said Aduba, a two-time Emmy Award winner for her portrayal of Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren on the Netflix series "Orange Is The New Black." "I want all of these people to know that they are loved and their efforts are appreciated by all of us, and their stories are heard."

Breast cancer survivors, friends and family, advocates and supporters of the cause, regardless of gender, can submit stories about themselves or loved ones who are "Going to Bat Against Cancer" by visiting HonoraryBatGirl.com for a chance to be recognized on-field by their favorite team on Mother's Day, May 14. Entrants must be at least 18 years old.

Major League Baseball is founding sponsor of SU2C, dating back to 2008, and MLB and its 30 clubs continue to work year-round with SU2C to help fund Dream Team scientists and raise awareness in the overall fight against cancer. In eight years, thousands of unique testimonials have been submitted and more than three million fan votes have been cast in the Honorary Bat Girl initiative, which is supported by charitable partners SU2C and Susan G. Komen

Supporters of the contest participants have the opportunity to vote online for these inspirational stories. During MLB's annual recognition of Mother's Day, one Honorary Bat Girl per club will take part in pregame activities and will also receive pink MLB merchandise. For clubs that are away on Mother's Day, another home game will be selected to recognize their Honorary Bat Girl.

The panel of guest judges and an online public vote at HonoraryBatGirl.com will help select the winning submissions based on the following criteria: quality of submission in describing the nominee's personal connection to breast cancer, the nominee's commitment to the battle against breast cancer through education/awareness/fundraising/additional efforts, and public appeal (as determined by the public online vote). Each judge will review a portion of the submissions, and their rankings will be considered in the selection process.

Reds Honorary Bat Girl

Aduba, a sprinter in college, ran the Boston Marathon and the New York City Marathon to honor those loved ones who died from breast cancer. She said she wanted to do something "very loud and with feeling on my body," and by serving as a guest judge in this contest, she will continue to "pay it forward in any way I can."

"Even if they don't have their family member selected, they are still honoring them in that they are just putting in the effort to highlight them and make their name known outside their comfort group," Aduba said. "I thought that was so intensely powerful and large and a selfless thing to do, and that Major League Baseball is taking the time to truly recognize these daily fighters, these huge players in the game of life."

Bat Girl on throwing first pitch

Song was 16 years old when her mother, Mai Song, was first diagnosed. Brenda has experienced the ups and downs, including the past three weeks as her mother was hospitalized.

"This is very close to the heart for me," Song said. "It's easy to pretend it never happened. But there's a lot of power and strength in being able to share, because sharing it makes it so real. ... When someone shares their story, there is so much courage and strength behind that. That's something I really want to honor with this, everyone who has the strength to even submit a story."

Royals left fielder Alex Gordon is a guest judge for his mom, Leslie, a breast cancer survivor. Brock Holt from the Red Sox will serve on the panel as part of his continuing cancer-fighting efforts, which include time and financial commitments to The Jimmy Fund and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Lindsay Berra and Alyson Footer from MLB.com will be guest judges. Berra has several close friends who have been affected by the disease. Footer lost her mother to cancer and has an aunt who is a breast cancer survivor. ESPN's Holly Rowe and Shelley Smith, both breast cancer survivors, will join the judging panel for the first time.

MLB Network hosts on the panel will include Chris Rose, who has lost several close friends to the disease, and Kelly Nash, an active supporter of women's health initiatives.

"When people are awakened to a cause, they typically donate, they typically reach out," Aduba said. "We're all familiar with the national pastime in this country. When we can take that event and make it personal, I know people find a way within themselves to join the fight as well."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.