Here they come again.
What began two years ago as a bold statement has grown into a full-scale baseball tradition, driving massive proceeds to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation to fight breast cancer. It is now officially and dramatically how Major League Baseball celebrates each Mother's Day, as hundreds of players again will be swinging pink bats this Sunday and giving everyone, including fans, the opportunity to get involved.
Those signed bats will gradually show up in coming weeks at the MLB.com Auction, with all proceeds again going to Komen. In addition to promotional support, Major League Baseball Charities has also committed $50,000 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure through the "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" program.
"Major League Baseball is committed to giving back to our communities in meaningful ways and we are proud to again partner with Susan G. Komen for the Cure to help raise awareness and funds for the fight against breast cancer," said Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig. "Breast cancer affects countless women and their families each year and we at Baseball feel fortunate to be able to use our game as a platform to help raise awareness in the ongoing fight to eradicate this disease."
During games played on Mother's Day, players will wear pink wristbands and pink titanium necklaces made by Major League Baseball licensee Phiten. Pink ribbons will be displayed on player uniforms, as well as those of all on-field personnel. The breast cancer awareness theme will be carried throughout the game, including pink ribbon logos on the bases and commemorative home plates, and pink dugout lineup cards.
Team-autographed commemorative home plates and pink bats from each ballpark will also be auctioned off on MLB.com at a later date with net proceeds raising additional funds for Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Major League Baseball is also donating tickets in many ballparks to local Komen affiliates, which will distribute the tickets to its volunteers and breast cancer survivors and their families, and are to be designated as "Pinked-Out Zones" in the park.
"At Susan G. Komen for the Cure we collaborate with a variety of organizations to provide creative ways for people to make a difference in the fight against breast cancer," said Hala Moddelmog, president and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. "Partnering with Major League Baseball increases breast cancer awareness and allows fans nationwide to make a valuable contribution to breast cancer research and community outreach programs."
This is the third year for the Pink Project, and it was immediately embraced and turned into a tradition.
"It's about bringing awareness to breast cancer and raising money for research so we can stop cancer and save lives," said John A. Hillerich IV, the president and CEO of Hillerich & Bradsby Co., manufacturers of Louisville Sluggers for the past 124 years.
"It's a great cause, a great idea," said Jeter, whose sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and is now cancer-free, of the pink-bat tradition. "I hope they raise a lot of money."
According to komen.org, an estimated 182,460 cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in American women in 2008 alone. In 1975, the number was 107 per 100,000 for caucasian women and 94 per 100,000 for African-American women. Twenty-nine years later, in 2004, the number of new cases per year had risen, to 128 per 100,000 and 119 per 100,000, respectively.
The five-year survival rate for all women diagnosed with breast cancer is 90 percent. This means that 90 out of every 100 women with breast cancer will survive without a recurrence for at least five years. Most will live a full life and never have a recurrence. The chances of surviving are better if the cancer is detected early, before it spreads to other parts of your body. In fact, when breast cancer is confined to the breast, the five-year survival rate is 98 percent.
These are not the kinds of statistics you normally go looking for at MLB.com, but these are the kinds of statistics you are going to hear about around the game. Those diagnosed include mothers of players, relatives, fans -- people in the baseball family, people you very well may know. Baseball as an institution can make a positive difference, and the pink bats have become a symbolic means of doing just that.
The concept originated during a visit Hillerich made to Louisville Slugger's sister company, Canada-based TPS Hockey, in March 2006. TPS Hockey had made pink hockey sticks for players in the NHL, and more than $100,000 was raised during the weekend those sticks were used.
Hillerich returned to Louisville smitten with the idea and presented it to MLB officials. Even though it was shockingly different -- and "different" doesn't always fly with fans -- this was a no-brainer. Still, no one could have imagined how popular it would become. Each of the last two years, the pink bats that were used and signed by players -- as well as team-signed pink bats and team-signed home plates -- were listed at the MLB.com Auction. All proceeds went to Komen, and bidding was wild.
Bidding already is under way for several pink bats, including three signed by Yankee stars as part of a recent segment on ABC's "Good Morning America." Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera and Jeter are among those who signed the ones now listed in advance. After the May 11 games, be on the lookout at the MLB.com Auction, because all of those incredible keepsakes will be there again, your chance to make a difference.
"We expected that this would be something that would draw a lot of interest," Hillerich said two years ago, at the inception, "but it has far exceeded our expectations. It is wild around here. People are calling, wanting to buy a pink bat. It's crazy. The good thing is that it's drawing attention to the cause."
Fans can "Go to Bat Against Breast Cancer" by making a donation at komen.org.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.