We know that unusual skill is a prerequisite to become a professional athlete in any sport. What makes baseball so alluring to many is that this particular game requires a rare level of both physical and mental ability. Braden Bishop was born with one and has learned the other through unfortunate circumstances.
Named to the 2017 California League All-Star team, Braden Bishop has continued a torrid start to his professional career by setting the table as the center fielder and leadoff hitter for the best Nuts squad that Modesto has enjoyed since at least 2013.
Born in Los Angeles to a pair of division one athletes, Bishop has succeeded on the rink, the gridiron, and the diamond. His father Randy played baseball at UNLV. His mother Suzy ran track at UCLA.
"My dad taught [baseball] to me. I had a bat in my hand before I could walk," Bishop reminisced. "Mom would throw me whiffle balls in the backyard. My brother and I would reenact the 2002 World Series with the Giants and the Angels. That was just kind of how I was raised and how I grew up."
Although baseball was the first sport learned by Bishop and his brother Hunter, who just finished his freshman year as an outfielder at Arizona State, it may not have been his best.
"I actually think my best sport was probably hockey growing up," Bishop mused. "When I'd follow my mom around while she was doing movies up in Canada, I got into it and loved it."
Suzy Bishop, while raising two successful sons, was also traveling around Canada and raising a number of successful movies and TV shows as a producer including Law & Order and JAG.
"Once we moved back to California when I was 12 it just made it tough [to continue with hockey] because the closest team was an hour away," explained Bishop. "So I just decided to play baseball and then football followed after that."
And once again, Braden's physical abilities were evident.
"I'm sitting in chemistry class getting letters from LSU football, South Carolina football, and Stanford football," Bishop said. "I fell in love with football and how physical it was. [I loved] the camaraderie between teammates and how on every play there is an opportunity to make a big play."
After contemplating playing both in college, Braden settled on baseball.
"I think my first love was always baseball," Braden explained. "It's tough enough playing one division one sport. I figured injury wise and with the career longevity [of baseball] I'd put all my time and effort into that."
After three successful seasons at the University of Washington, Braden was drafted in the third round of the 2015 draft and has zoomed into Modesto with the focus of letting his physical tools show off.
"The biggest thing for me is my durability," Braden said of his offseason focus. "You can have all the ability in the world but if you can't stay on the field, the ability means nothing. So it was a huge emphasis for me. How can I stay healthy? How can I sustain what I do in the offseason over 140-plus games?"
Born with the physical tools and work ethic to hone those tools enough to embark on a successful professional career, it has been under unfortunate circumstances that Braden has developed his mental skills.
In September of 2014, while Braden was still at the University of Washington, his mother Suzy was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's.
"I don't think there is a moment when I'm not thinking about her," Braden stated stoically. "She's doing, I wouldn't say any better because I think with Alzheimer's, the progression only gets worse as time goes along , but she's in a spot where she's accepted what's going on and she's got a really good group of people around here that can keep her positive."
As this heartbreaking disease has slowly and irrevocably entered the Bishop's lives, Braden has had to learn to live with it while still enjoying and pursuing his dreams and own path. One way those two have intersected is through the charity he started after the diagnosis, 4MOM. Their mission statement reads "At 4MOM, we're raising funds and promoting a cause to help those who need it most.
We welcome you to join our fight aimed at making the Alzheimer's world a clearer place."
The 4MOM foundation has continued to grow and has found support from Braden's college teammates to his future major league opponents. As the charity has grown, so has the impact of the disease, and the mental strength Bishop carries with him each day through baseball's unique ups and downs.
"It's pretty much every minute of every day," Bishop said of the disease's impact on his mother's life. "She'll have her good moments when she is present and there but for the most part it's just the monotonous things that aren't very hard for us, are very difficult for her. It's her trying to open the fridge and close the fridge. That's a tough task for her. While for us we don't even think about it, we just do it."
After helping his swing begin its development against her whiffle ball pitches, the ability to stay so even-keeled mentally has become a final and lasting gift from a mother that has given so much.
"When I hit a low or I start going down a negative path, whether it's during the game, before the game, or something else going on in my life, I think it brings me back and gives me unique perspective where I don't allow the negativity to take over because I know things could be a lot worse. I know her life is only getting worse. For her to have to accept that and know that…things could be a lot worse for me and I count my blessings."
For more information on 4MOM or to contribute, visit www.4momalz.com and follow @4MOM_ALZ on Twitter.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.