PEORIA, ARIZONA – FEBRUARY 18: Braden Bishop #5 of the Seattle Mariners poses for a portrait during … [+]
When Braden Bishop steps on the field, he is playing more than the Seattle Mariners logo on the front of his uniform and the number on the back. He is carrying the legacy of his mother Suzy, who died in 2019 after a five-year battle with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Bishop started 4MOM in 2014 after his mother’s diagnosis, and continues to use his platform to uplift her memory through funding Alzheimer’s research.
“The number one goal is to honor her memory,” Bishop said during a recent phone interview. “The way I look at it, it’s me who can fill her shoes. It takes a village; my brother and I most directly, my father as well. It takes all of us to fill her shoes and honor her memory. She was such a strong individual, so organized and one of the best leaders that I’ve ever seen in my entire life. If I could be half of that every time I wake up and go into the real world, then I’m doing her the best service that I can possibly do.”
Bishop was in college at the University of Washington when his mother was diagnosed. He possessed little insight as to how Alzheimer’s would slowly take away his mother’s strength and abilities, who was a former UCLA track athlete and television producer.
“I remember when she was diagnosed that I had no idea,” he said. “At the time as a 21-year-old, this is thrown on you. You know what they tell you, which is obviously her brain’s going to deteriorate, but I didn’t know what that looked like in physical form. To see how the brain affected the way she ate, the way she walked, the way she talked, it was truly eye opening.”
He quickly learned how Alzheimer’s reach went far beyond his mother and affected the entire family. He said it is an ugly face of the disease the public rarely sees.
“To see how it affected the people indirectly [were] affected physically … and the toll it takes on the people who care give, because at a certain point with Alzheimer’s, the person who is affected forgets who they are, where they are, and how to even take care of themselves,” he said. “It all falls on to the caregivers, and that’s where you really see mental health and physical health issues from caregivers.”
Bishop was faced with the task of trying to reach the major leagues while focusing on his mother’s declining health. Putting on his cleats and getting on the field gave him a place where he could temporarily escape the disease that was gripping at his entire family.
“At first it was extremely difficult because while it did provide a sense of relief when I stepped between the white lines, it was really hard to basically put everything I had into baseball without feeling guilty,” he said.
Not surprisingly, his mother was his biggest supporter.
“I had offered [to come home],” he said. “She told me, ‘I know that’s your dream, you need to go and play.’ She made it seem like you can do the best for me by going to play and enjoying it [while] continuing to climb the ladder.”
As of this writing, 4MOM has raised over $100,000 in their quest to defeat Alzheimer’s. In 2021, Bishop and 4MOM have also found support from other athletes across the sporting landscape.
Athletes Unlimited and Give Lively have aligned to aid 4MOM with their fundraising by making a grant equal to 50% of each player’s end-of-season bonus. Kaylee Manns, and fellow Washington Husky Lianna Sybeldon from Athletes Unlimited’s professional women’s volleyball league are playing this season with 4MOM as their selected charity.
Sybeldon, who was also at Washington during Bishop’s tenure, viewed this as an opportunity for the two Washington Huskies to combines forces against this terrible disease. It is a close cause to her heart.
“From afar, I saw what he went through with his mom dealing with Alzheimer’s,” Sybeldon said. “My grandmother on my mom’s side passed away of dementia last year. I’ve also seen first-hand what this illness can do to an individual, and to a family. I had a lot of empathy for Braden watching him and his family go through that. I have always really respected what he’s done with 4MOM and the agenda that this charity has. As soon as the opportunity became available to partner with a nonprofit … it was kind of a no-brainer for me. I wanted to support Braden after having seen the struggle that he had to go through, and the experience that I had watching my grandma deteriorate from dementia. … It’s really a heart wrenching illness.”
Bishop was elated to discover professional athletes outside the baseball world coming together to elevate 4MOM’s reach. It is a collaborative effort that he hopes will continue in the future.
“It’s amazing,” Bishop said. “I have so much respect for those two. I went to school with Lianna, so obviously I know her more than Kaylee, but from the interactions we’ve had, they’re both amazing human beings. We’re excited that they chose us to support, and we’re really excited to follow them.”
Heading into the 2021 season, Bishop is asking fans to pledge donations for every hit he registers during spring training. While he knows they will follow what he’s doing on the field, it is his work with 4MOM that he hopes will inspire many to bring change within their communities.
“We have the ability to affect so many people,” he said. “If we’re not doing it positively, then what are we doing? The way I view it, I have this whole Alzheimer’s community that might not be looking just at me, but if I can affect the community in a positive way, then that’s going to affect real change and bring hope to a lot of people.”
I have spent over a decade chronicling MLB’s history through in-depth interviews and with current and retired players, curating an archive of stories to tell for future