Going to bat against breast cancer: cancer survivor serves as Mariners' honorary bat girl
SEATTLE - Vanessa Walsh had been waiting for this moment.
The Puyallup mom and breast cancer survivor along with her three kids and best buddy, Renee Maher, made their way through the umpire's tunnel and onto Safeco Field Monday night.
She would eventually make her way to the mound.
But at this moment, she watched how it's done as Mariners' pitchers were warming up on the field.
She was surrounded by other big name players, all on deck waiting to start batting practice.
The lights were bright, the music blared from two massive speakers, hope was in the air.
It was about to happen.
Walsh just didn't know it would happen here.
"Everyone is looking for, why am I here?" said Walsh.
For the young mother, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer in 2014, she's here because she overcame adversity - the hardest kinds.
"That's why I'm here," she said.
Walsh believes her story, surviving not one, but two devastating blows, including an aggressive breast cancer diagnosis led her to this once in a lifetime honor.
On Monday night, she is the Mariners Honorary Bat Girl. And everyone knows it.
Mariners Third Baseman Kyle Seager congratulated her, hung out with her family and posed for pictures.
Walsh, decked out in a Mariners hat and jersey, was part of the Mariners team and their bigger family, part of Major League Baseball's honorary bat girl program.
The program is all about "going to bat against breast cancer."
Sportscaster and voice of Mariners Radio Rick Rizzs detected some nerves and put Walsh at ease.
They picked a quieter spot on the warning track and started practicing. Those pitches seemed to warm up her arm and her confidence.
"That's perfect, good one! You're going to be just fine." said Rizzs.
90 feet is a long way from the mound to home plate, and Walsh had quickly figured out a strategy to make the distance.
"I can stand in front of the mound. So, that will help and the catcher's good, right?" she asked.
Turns out her catcher was actually Mariners Pitcher Chase De Jong.
He gave her some advice, signed a pink Louisville Slugger bat engraved with her name and then signed Mariners baseball caps for her son and two daughters.
"We're a huge baseball family," said Walsh.
Almost go time and nerves gave way to excitement.
"I'm going to step on the field," blurted out Walsh.
Fans poured in and her once in a life time moment was about to happen.
Her breast cancer story played out on the Mariners' giant HD video scoreboard to every fan at Safeco Field.
"I know every day it can come back -- I'm that kind of cancer," said Walsh.
The crowd cheered and Walsh waved back as she made her way onto the field.
De Jong gave her some last minute encouragement and headed to home plate.
The ceremonial first pitch was in flight.
"That was awesome! Field of dreams, you build it they will come. It was so cool," Walsh practically floated off the field, "It's amazing, it's a once in a lifetime, the stuff kids dreams are made of - childhood baseball!"
Her overhand throw was straight. A thing of beauty. It landed right in the middle of De Jong's mitt.
Without a swing, she knew she hit a home run for breast cancer awareness and hope.
"I feel like every time I can help someone else out there, whether being a widow or breast cancer that's why I'm here, that's my purpose," said Walsh.
Three years ago Walsh was told she had only two or three years to live. Her cancer is now in remission. And cancer is just the latest battle.
In 2010, her husband Brian, a Federal Way police officer died in the line of duty. He had a heart attack guarding a shooting scene.
She was seven months pregnant then, and already had two kids when was denied widow survivor benefits by the state.
She was devastated - a single mom, pregnant and not sure how she would make ends meet. She took on the state.
"It's been one fight after a another to losing Brian when she was seven months pregnant," said Maher, Walsh's friend.
Maher advocated for Walsh when the state repeatedly refused to grant her survivor benefits back in 2010.
"It makes you look back at your life and you realize the things you went through and why you went through them and each thing has prepared me for the next thing," said Walsh.
"This is just a day to honor her," said Maher, whose essay about Walsh got her nominated and eventually chosen as the Mariners winner of Major League Baseball's Annual Honorary Bat Girl Contest.
Maher too lost her husband in the line of duty.
Federal Way Officer Patrick Maher was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2003 while breaking up fight.
"When you suffer a line of duty loss it's a very public event, few people who understand your level of pain, then you come to something like this and there is only joy and celebration of life and everyone is celebrating with you," said Maher.
It took more than a year, but Walsh said with Maher and her attorneys help, she convinced the state that she and her three children deserved the survivor benefits her husband earned.
Those benefits are for life, and without them she doesn't know how she would have covered the cost of her breast cancer treatment for her aggressive form of breast cancer.
"Before I got diagnosed, I didn't know there was more than one kind of breast cancer," said Walsh.
Her courageous battle has come with chemotherapy, a mastectomy, radiation and clinical trials.
Her surgeon actually thanked her for taking on a risky surgery because she has become the 'template for others.'
Walsh said that motivates her. She said she doesn't want other women to be unaware.
She was stunned that there was so much she didn't know about breast cancer until she got it.
She insisted the only way to find a cure is more researching, more funding and more awareness.
"What you leave is you legacy." said Walsh.