Honorary Bat Girl contest judges announced

Honorary Bat Girl contest judges announced

Jason Heyward was asked during Spring Training if he would like to be a guest judge in a contest. He would not be evaluating singing voices, dance moves, talent or beauty.

He would be reading through hundreds of real-life stories of courage and faith, the kind that can test your resolve. They would be stories submitted by fans about themselves or loved ones who are "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" -- each as important as the next.

"At first, I didn't know how much I would need to do. But after reading people's testimonies, it really didn't matter. If it was one page or two pages, I didn't have any problem reading them through," said the Braves' right fielder, whose aunt died of lung cancer.

"I like to help with anything related to any form of cancer. I know some people like to pinpoint it because they have their own testimonies based on experience. But for me, any time I can be a part of it somehow, it has its own sentimental meaning."

Major League Baseball on Wednesday announced the guest judging panel for the 2012 Honorary Bat Girl program, which recognizes baseball fans who have been affected by breast cancer and demonstrate a commitment to "going to bat" in the fight against the disease. The guest panel will help select one Honorary Bat Girl for each of the 30 MLB teams to be recognized on-field on Mother's Day, May 13, and includes strong support from players who are personally committed to the fight against cancer.

On the MLB team of judges, Heyward joins Phillies pitcher Joe Blanton, whose mother is a breast cancer survivor; Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick, whose best friend's mother is a breast cancer survivor; and Giants pitcher Barry Zito, whose mother was affected by cancer.

Those players are joined on the panel by MLB Network host Chris Rose, who has several close friends who have been affected by the disease; international soccer star Mia Hamm, supporter of the Honorary Girl Initiative with husband and former All-Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, whose grandmother died from breast cancer; and James Denton, the "Desperate Housewives" actor and perennial All-Star Week participant who lost his mother to breast cancer.

Nine-time Grammy Award winner Bonnie Raitt recorded a video tribute to show her support of the campaign, which will run closer to Mother's Day online and in stadiums.

Fans shared their stories about themselves or loved ones who are "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" by visiting honorarybatgirl.com. The submission deadline was April 5, so now it is the judges' turn.

During MLB's annual Mother's Day national day of recognition, one Honorary Bat Girl per club will take part in pregame activities, be honored during an on-field ceremony and receive pink MLB merchandise along with two tickets to the game. For clubs that are away on Mother's Day, another home game in May will be selected to recognize their Honorary Bat Girl.

On Mother's Day, hundreds of MLB players are expected to use pink bats by Louisville Slugger, stamped with the MLB breast cancer awareness logo. To further demonstrate their support for the breast cancer cause, players and on-field personnel will wear a symbolic pink ribbon on their uniforms along with pink wrist bands. Commemorative dugout lineup cards also will be pink -- now an annual tradition.

"It's been a wonderful experience for me," longtime breast cancer survivor Catherine Brennan said last year after being honored at PNC Park on Mother's Day as the Pirates' Honorary Bat Girl. "To get out on that field and do that first pitch is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. To raise breast cancer awareness, which is near and dear to my heart, not just for me, but also to my mom, Suzanna Howard, who died three months before I was diagnosed, this was an absolutely incredible day."

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