Modesto, California —— Braden Bishop was riding high on the morning of Wednesday, May 3, a few hours before the day game finale of a three-game set between his Modesto Nuts and the host San Jose Giants.
The night before, Bishop had slugged three hits—including a double—scored two runs, and drove in one more. The night before that, he had two more hits, two more runs, and a walk to his name. Entering that day game on Wednesday, his slash line had risen to an impressive .340/.425/.447, the result of a breakout summer that’s come on the heels of a big change to his swing during the offseason.
And then, that morning, Bishop went just 1-for-4 with a walk and a strikeout; by recent results, something of a down day for him.
But later that afternoon, he shared this on Instagram:
Today was a special day for me. My Mom was able to come out and watch me play for the first time in a long time. At one point in the game I made an out and while my first instinct was to be upset I looked up at her and realized I had absolutely every reason in the world to be thankful for where I am. Alzheimer's is no joke. It's taken her life from her yet she still finds the strength to come out and watch me play. There is no excuse in the world for me not to support her! #4MOM
The story of how early-onset Alzheimer’s disease has affected the Bishop family is not a new one, of course; it’s been a notable angle on the young outfielder and his mom since Braden was playing at the University of Washington. It’s how I first got to know him last year, while Bishop was an outfielder for the Bakersfield Blaze. It spawned a charity, 4MOM, and over the winter a new documentary looking deeper at Suzy Bishop, the wife and mom behind such a vicious disease.
But on May 3, as Suzy was physically well enough to make the trip from the family’s Mountain View home to San Jose to watch her son play in person for the first time in years, all that 1-for-4 stuff and breakout season talk once again faded away, and Braden Bishop was finally able to once again play baseball in front of the woman who threw him thousands of wiffle balls as a toddler. She could only muster the strength to stay for a few innings, but it was a dream come true, and maybe a return to some semblance of normalcy, for the outfielder.
Two weeks after that San Jose series, Braden was still floored by it.
“When we were in San Jose, I actually got to go home during the days,” he told Baseball Census before a recent Modesto Nuts game. “My dad was at work, and he was kind of like, ‘hey, be ready, you’re really going to have to keep an eye on her.’ And, like, she’s able to open the fridge, but then she doesn’t know how to close it. She can open one door of a double door, but then she tries to open the other door to go through while the first one is right open next to her. She talks to the dog, thinking that it’s inside, when the dog is outside. She’d lose her phone, while her phone is sitting right in front of her on the table.”
Having seen him play for two seasons now, it’s weird to see Braden Bishop not smiling on a baseball field. He has a big personality, the kind of guy who will come down to the dugout camera wells and joke around with the photographers right before a game. Even moments before this conversation he was joking around with San Diego Padres prospect Ty France, who was busy with pre-game infield drills for the Lake Elsinore Storm at first base as Bishop and I spoke pre-game. But when the conversation turns to his mom, Bishop’s underlying emotion comes to the surface: this disease taken a toll on everyone.
“It’s something that I would never wish on my worst enemy,” he said. “It’s really hard to think of her struggling every day with things that we find so easy to do. Those are the things that really eat away at me. I feel a real sense of grief, knowing that she’s lost all of her freedoms. We all know how to close the refrigerator, but she doesn’t know that any more. To really see that, like, wow, this has completely taken over her life. That’s the toughest part for me.”
Bishop is a prospect—one of the Seattle Mariners’ best, in fact—with the world at his feet and his dreams all in line. In the middle of a breakout season now, he’s enjoying a career year that may soon bring a promotion to Double-A Arkansas, perhaps a mixed bag considering that’d mean no more road games in San Jose where his mom could possibly come watch. But deeper than that, and in juxtaposition with Braden Bishop the baseball player, is Braden Bishop the human being. And more than most people know, Braden Bishop the human being has been weighed down with his mom’s descent into the disease.
“A lot of times, I’ve questioned being here. I’ve wondered if I should be at home,” he said quietly, acknowledging the guilt that comes with leaving his mom—and his dad, who is her caretaker—at home to go after his baseball future. “But my mom, my dad, they know this is my dream. They support me.”
He paused, and smiled again, for the first time in too many minutes.
“We’ll see what happens going forward, but in a way, this is just like baseball,” he said. “We can only go day-to-day. We just have to see what happens day-to-day.”
If May 3 was a very good day for the Bishop family, it hasn’t been the only one. Over the winter, Braden participated in Alzheimer’s walks in both San Francisco and Los Angeles to raise money and awareness for the disease, and to help raise the profile of the early-onset nature of it in his mom. Braden is figuring out how to use his high-profile baseball reputation for good in this realm, too; if he can’t be at home with mom every day, why not do something about it in the greater world?
“This whole platform of being a professional athlete has opened a door where people feel like they can tell me their stories,” he said, the smile now firmly back on his face as he talked of being a role model for others who have a family member suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. “Whether it’s their dad, or grandma, or whatever, or even if it’s a family member or a loved one with a completely different disease, and they don’t know how to deal with it, people have reached out to me. I know they want an outlet of hope, and I guess they see it with me. I never thought that would happen when I started being an advocate for Alzheimer’s. I never thought our story would be a glimmer of hope for another family.”
There have been countless moments of connection like that for Bishop. Take the case of high school baseball player Nate Clow, a friend who linked up with Braden through a mutual connection at the University of Washington. With Clow, and countless others, the Seattle Mariners’ outfielder has brought a broader perspective beyond baseball just by living out his life.
“[Nate] texted me the other day and said, ‘hey, I went 1-for-6, we played 12 innings, I felt terrible, I was so mad at my performance. But then I saw your Instagram post of your mom and I realized that it’s just a game, and there’s a lot worse than 1-for-6,’” Bishop recalled. “It actually made me laugh.”
“I was like, ‘Nate, you’re right, there’s a lot worse than 1-for-6. Also, I can tell you it won’t even be the last time you go 1-for-6,’” he remembered, laughing again and bringing some levity to a dark time. “But moments like that, whether it’s baseball or not, that part of it is has been an amazing journey to see people come to that realization.”
And so Braden will persevere, just as his younger brother Hunter has done as a rising star at Arizona State, just as his father will do back home caring for the boys’ mother, and just as his mother will do with the biggest battle of them all. As his career winds on, Braden figures to take a larger and larger role in Alzheimer’s awareness, and in fighting for a cure.
“This has given me an unbelievable opportunity to be extremely positive about something extremely negative,” he said. “And it’s given me hope in realizing that my story can be a hope for somebody else. That’s an amazing thing. Not many people get that opportunity. People going through this, they don’t have to go through this alone.”
No matter how many times Suzy is able to see her boys play baseball again, there’s a greater movement at work here—one that Braden Bishop quite literally wears on his sleeve. And yeah, maybe you should root for his offensive surge on the field, because when you do, you’re rooting for a good young man to further raise his baseball profile which, in turn, will raise greater awareness about what really matters.
At the very least, credit Braden Bishop’s offensive breakout in 2017 to Suzy; she was the one who taught him how to swing the bat twenty years ago.
To read our other interview with Seattle Mariners outfielder Braden Bishop, about his hitting adjustments and breakout season, please click here. To visit Braden Bishop’s player page, please click here. For our full scouting report on Seattle Mariners outfielder Braden Bishop, please click here.
In this Braden Bishop / Seattle Mariners: