Prospect's charity raises money to fight Alzheimer's
By William Boor
PEORIA, Ariz. -- "4MOM"
The simple message stitched in purple -- the official color of Alzheimer's awareness -- on the thumb of Braden Bishop's black Rawlings glove helps keep everything in perspective and serves as a constant reminder of the battle his mother is fighting.
"I always wanted to help out, whether it was a teammate's mom who had breast cancer or one of my best friends' through high school, his cousin had pediatric cancer, so I got involved with that," Bishop, the Mariners' No. 5 prospect, said. "I felt like I was called to serve in whatever capacity, but I always felt like I didn't want to force helping, especially for these causes."
Well, if Bishop felt he was forcing his service and charitable efforts back then, he certainly isn't any more. The 24-year-old started the 4MOM foundation after his mother, Suzy, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
Suzy, who had been president of the Vancouver Film School and a vice president of production with NBC, had dealt with migraines for years, but doctors felt they were simply strong headaches and something she'd simply have to learn to manage. But when she noticed her memory getting increasingly foggy, she had a spinal tap done and was diagnosed in 2014.
"There are changes that happen with the brain that are considered normal with aging, but Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of aging," Monica Moreno, the Alzheimer's Association's senior director of care and support, said.
While Alzheimer's, in its early stages, can often be misconstrued or ignored as signs of old age, this certainly wasn't the case with Suzy.
She was just 54 years old.
"I think that was my first response to my brother," Hunter, Braden's younger brother, said. "I was like, 'she's 50 years old, how is that possible?'" Suzy was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's, a condition that affects up to five percent of the more than five million Americans with Alzheimer's, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
"Alzheimer's disease has no cure, there is no way to prevent it and there is no way to slow the disease," Moreno said. "It literally is the only disease in the top 10 that you cannot cure, you cannot slow and you cannot prevent."
Bishop, who was playing with the University of Washington at the time, was overwhelmed with grief and didn't know what to do. He asked his parents if he should give up baseball, or if he should move back home to California.
He wanted to help, but he was far away from home. He wanted to grieve, but he didn't want to be a distraction for his teammates.
As much as Bishop tried to hide his emotions, Dave Rak, the assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of Washington, noticed a change in demeanor and asked the outfielder what was on his mind.
After Bishop confided in Rak, the coach suggested a weightlifting competition to raise money for charity. The whole team showed up to the event, which raised "a couple thousand dollars" and Bishop realized that he could make a difference.
Roughly a week later, prior to a scrimmage, Bishop received a text from his dad.
"Make sure to keep your mom on your mind today," the text read. "Play for your mom today."
Bishop promptly took a Sharpie, wrote "4MOM" on his arm and his charity, which has since partnered with Alzheimer's Greater Los Angeles, was born.
"We want to find a cure," Bishop said. "At some point, whether in my lifetime, or after it, or 100 years from now, the goal is to find a cure for this disease so hopefully one day people don't have to be in the shoes me and my family are in."
Suzy has always been an important part of Braden and Hunter's lives. Their father, Randy, was in law enforcement and had a hectic schedule. Since he was often busy with work, it was Suzy who took the boys to the park -- pitching to them and hitting fly balls.
"I'll always have those memories. She's been my best friend since day one," Hunter, a member of the baseball team at Arizona State University, said.
Those memories serve as nice childhood reminders and give the brothers positive moments to look back upon, but it doesn't detract from the present or make the current situation any easier.
Because of their schedules, it isn't always easy for Braden -- who did move from Washington to San Carlos, Calif., to be near home during the offseason -- or Hunter to visit, but they try talking to their mother almost daily on the phone. Unfortunately, that provides challenges as well.
"It's tough to have any sort of relationship because she doesn't really know how to answer the phone anymore," Bishop said. "If she calls you, more often than not it's a butt dial or she's just pressing buttons. If I do talk to her, it's through my dad. I'll call him, but it's really tough at this point because she's, honestly, in bad shape. ... I want to spend as much time as possible because who knows when the last day could be."
While Bishop had considered giving up baseball after his mom was initially diagnosed, it's baseball that has provided him with an audience and opportunity to spread awareness.
Bishop started 4MOM while at the University of Washington, but once the Mariners selected him in the third round of the 2015 Draft, his audience instantly grew.
"We had a conversation where we decided we really wanted to do something for my mom," Hunter said. "[Braden] had the platform. He created it and it's totally his, but I'm definitely a big help and I'm trying to spread the word in Arizona as much as I can."
Nationally, Bishop has seen awareness of his foundation grow as his prospect stock has increased.
Bishop hosted his first auction in 2016 and raised roughly $400. After a breakout season in 2017 -- during which he hit .306/.393/.413 across two levels and reached Double-A Arkansas for the first time -- Bishop's auction, which included signed bats from Kyle Seager and Mike Zunino, a signed shirt from Joe Girardi and other baseball memorabilia, raised over $3,000 in three days.
"There have been so many times where we've been in a city, playing a team and somebody stops me on the way to the dugout or after the game and says, 'I want to thank you so much because you brought so much hope to my family,'" Bishop said. "To have that happen makes me realize this is why I do it, to hopefully bring hope and a little more understanding to people that are going through the same thing. That's been amazing to see."
William Boor is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.