You don't need to be a Mariners fan to be pulling for Braden Bishop this spring.
The Seattle outfield prospect and non-roster invitee will make every Spring Training hit count, and it's bigger than just a personal quest to reach the Majors. Bishop, 24, is worried more about his mother than a roster spot.
"I just put it out for myself," he said of his latest initiative. "And I got a lot of people saying, 'I want in. How can I pledge money based on the hits you get?'"
Every hit Bishop gets this spring will cost him. His mother, Suzy, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2014. Bishop, an outfielder with the University of Washington at the time, held a fundraiser with his teammates to support his then 54-year-old mom, and the efforts for awareness continued when he began writing "4MOM" on his arms during games. That turned into his 4MOM charity, which is now a partner of Alzheimer's Greater Los Angeles. The goal: raise awareness about the neurodegenerative disease and fundraise for research to combat it.
Fast-forward to 2018 when, on Feb. 7, Bishop sparked a social media movement by tweeting his plans to donate money to charity for every hit he gets this spring. A single will prompt a $10 donation, and a double will make it $20. He'll donate $30 for each triple he hits, and $40 if he goes deep.
Bishop said he got the idea ahead of reporting to Spring Training in Arizona and mentioned it to a few teammates. He said more than 80 people have since pledged to support his fundraising efforts.
"I asked a couple guys I played with who are close to me, and they were all about it. They put it out on Twitter and asked, 'Who's with me? Who's in?' And it grew legs and started running and as of [last week] we had over 80," he said. "It's grown since then, and I'm sure once Spring Training starts and people start getting the word, they'll join in as well."
Scroll down Bishop's Twitter feed and you'll find dozens of retweets from players, fans, friends, companies and others connected to the game pledging their support to fight Alzheimer's. Equipment maker Lazer Pro Baseball, for example, pledged to donate portions of all its orders to Bishop's charity in 2018. A's prospect Collin Theroux followed with a $10 donation for every hit this spring.
Theroux's decision seemed to start a trend. Zach Shickel, a clubhouse director at Class A Cedar Rapids, promised donations for every jersey he has to wash this season. Mariners Minor Leaguer Nick Zammarelli III followed with a $5 pledge for every Spring Training hit he gets. Another Seattle prospect, Ian Miller, then kicked in $10 for each hit.
TJ Friedl, the Reds' No. 15 prospect, saw the movement on Twitter and talked to Theroux about it.
"I've known the story for a while, and I went on Twitter one day and saw everything he was doing," Friedl said. "'Hits to end AZL' -- it's just a really good thing for guys to get into. It's a great story, everything he's doing for Alzheimer's. We both thought it would be a great idea to help out."
The Mariners, too, are fully behind their prospect.
"We're just proud of him and the way our kids have rallied around him," said Andy McKay, Seattle's director of player development. "Close to every staff member is participating in some way or another. It's obviously, for him, very personal, and as I suspect most initiatives like this are initiated by people who have an up-close and personal experience."
Braden Bishop had "4MOM" shaved into his haircut while playing in the Arizona Fall League. (Jerry Kime)
A study detailed on Feb. 14 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine found a new treatment on mice reversed the symptoms of Alzheimer's. The treatment "could lead to an eventual cure for Alzheimer's," wrote Newsweek.
It's that type of encouraging news that drives Bishop to keep pushing for a cure.
"This has been an unfortunate situation that my mom got it, but I've met some amazing people, including researchers and doctors who are working on finding a cure or to reverse the effects," he said. "There's been a ton of progress made, and as time goes on there will be more, with more technology to try and figure out what's going on in the brain. I'm convinced and encouraged that at some time in the next 10 years, we'll see some significant improvements. It's exciting to see."
How you can help: Braden Bishop's 4MOM Alzheimer's charity
Until then, Bishop and the baseball community will do their part to help out. McKay said he was surprised at how much traction Bishop's Twitter campaign had gained within a week.
"I would say it caught me off-guard as much as it has spread, but when you think of it, I don't think it's that uncommon in the game," he said. "Baseball players tend to be good dudes, and when they see something like this, they're quick to jump in."
"I think I am surprised, but I'm also not because I know how close the baseball community is and how much they want to help out and get involved," Bishop said. "So I wasn't surprised of that aspect, but I was surprised that over 80 players, coaches -- I never thought people who are working regular 9-to-5 jobs would pledge money for a player on their own job performance. That's been the most surprising to me, and it totally exceeded my expectations."
"I think it just shows how deeply affected people can be from Alzheimer's," Friedl said. "Minor Leaguers and Major Leaguers are coming together to fight this cause, and it shows how powerful social media and word of mouth is. It's something special to see how people are coming together in the Minor Leagues and supporting him."
Bishop said the efforts that began back in 2014 have been a source of support for his father, who now takes care of his mother.
"It helps him have more confidence in care-giving because so many people are behind him," Bishop said.
Bishop's 4MOM charity has also partnered with Rivet Revolution, a bracelet maker that donates to Alzheimer's groups. Supporters can buy a bracelet for $38 (or three for $100 online), and $10 from each purchase goes toward Alzheimer's research, he said.
Bishop, a 2015 third-round Draft pick and 2017 California League All-Star, said the plan won't add any pressure for him to produce more hits this spring. He's coming off a season in which he batted .306 with three homers, 43 RBIs and 22 steals across two levels, earning All-Star Game MVP honors along the way.
"I think I've learned I'm not going to put any more pressure on myself on trying to get hits. That stuff will take care of itself," he said. "I'll do what I normally do and stay dedicated to my work. I think it'll be cool to put some incentive to every day and every game knowing other guys pledged to be involved."
Likewise, McKay doesn't think the team will treat Bishop any differently in terms of at-bats or playing time.
"You're rooting for him to do well. That MLB camp is about preparing our players to compete in the AL West, and that's the No. 1 priority. Just like anytime he comes up, you're pulling for him to do well," he said. "The majority of the players have pledged to join the effort, so it'll be a lot fun."
Arizona's Jake Lamb, Austin Byler, Grant Heyman and Alex Young, the Angels' Tim Arakawa and Zach Gibbons, the A's Austin Beck and the Mariners' Taylor Motter, Logan Taylor and Michael Koval are just a few who've tweeted their intent to donate. Even Shari Sommerfeld, a photographer at Seattle's short-season affiliate, pledged to donate for every home win in 2018.
"My family and I are thankful to everybody who wants to participate and thankful that so many hands have joined in so far," Bishop said.