From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul

Home Run for Mom

When my five-year professional baseball career with the St. Louis Cardinals came to an end in 1990, I prayed for the chance to play closer to New York. My mother, Grace, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was living on Long Island, and I wanted to spend more time with her. My wish came true when I signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for the 1991 season. Philadelphia was just three short hours from her home.

As the 1991 baseball season progressed, Mom’s con­dition took a turn for the worse. The cancer was spreading, and she couldn’t hold on for much longer. My fiancée and I even got married four months earlier than planned so Mom could attend.

My performance was also taking a turn for the worse. After the All-Star break, my playing time was reduced, and the few games I played were anything but impressive. Over the next six weeks, I went hitless in 18 consecutive at bats. This was a long slump, and I felt everything from self-pity to loneliness.

My downturn came to an end in the September 1 game against the Atlanta Braves. Playing in Philadelphia on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, I entered the game as a leadoff pinch-hitter in the bottom of the tenth. With the score tied 4–4, I batted against one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the league, Mark Wohlers. I just wanted to do anything to get on base so that we could win the game.

I took the first two pitches as the count reached one ball and one strike. Then I fouled off the next two pitches on fastballs that were clocked in excess of 95 mph! After those two healthy cuts, I finally felt a competitive spirit rise up inside me again.

With the count two balls and two strikes, I stepped out of the box and mentally prepared myself for the hardest pitch my adversary could possibly throw, determined not to be late again. The fastball was delivered over the inside corner, and the ball jumped off my bat with a thunderous crack usually reserved for superstar home-run hitters.

Right-fielder David Justice went back to the wall and watched the ball sail over the fence for a game-winning home run. Mobbed by my teammates at home plate, I could feel my heart pumping so fast I thought it was going to come crashing through my jersey. What a feeling!

Two weeks later, I visited Mom, eager to show her a videotape of the home run. But when I walked into her room, I was shocked to see the physical condition of my dear mother. I knew that this would probably be the last visit I would ever have with her.

We were both watching the tape for the first time, so I didn’t anticipate the commentator’s story that would unfold. After I hit the home run, the announcer, Harry Kalas, explained that it had been six long weeks since my last hit. Mom and I held hands and listened to Kalas continue. “John Morris has really struggled the second half of this season, and this couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.” I could feel the tears building up inside the two of us, as he showed a slow motion replay of my dramatic home run. As the pitcher wound up, Kalas uttered the sweetest words my mom had ever heard. “John’s mom has been quite ill for some time,” and as the ball connected with the bat, he finished, “and this one was probably for his mom.”

Mom and I broke down. She hugged me as tightly as she could and whispered into my ear, “I love you son, and I’m very proud of you. I’m going to miss you very much.”

The season was ending the last weekend of September when I received a call that Mom was not expected to make it through the weekend. That Sunday afternoon, the last out of the season was recorded, and on Monday morning she passed away with me at her bedside. It was as if she knew the season was complete, and that it was all right to let go.

John Morris

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