When the Athletics made a mid-December trade with the Cardinals last year they did more than acquire a promising young outfielder who finished sixth in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2015.
The deal brought Stephen Piscotty, a Pleasanton native, back to the East Bay, closer to his mother Gretchen, who was diagnosed with ALS last May.
Gretchen died Sunday, at 55, with Stephen at her side.
He said the willingness of the Cardinals to trade him and that of the A’s to make the deal happen, allowing to spend as much time with his mother as possible, is something that he wouldn’t trade for the world:
“The trade has meant the world to me and I know it did to my mom. Being able to share every last moment together was something that just warms my heart. I’m so grateful for it. I’m at a loss for words. I’m just so glad to be home.
Piscotty was away from the team Monday, but returned to the Oakland Coliseum and the A’s lineup Tuesday. Manager Bob Melvin said he gave the right fielder the opportunity to take another day away from the field prior to the game, but Piscotty denied. Melvin, whose mother died last spring, said that sometimes playing the game alongside your teammates can offer emotional relief from trying times.
Marcus Semien said he was overcome with emotions upon hearing the news of Piscotty’s mother early Monday:
“He’s been strong through this whole process, he hasn’t shown it much here. I know, if it was me, I’d be emotional and showing it. … He’s done a great job of handling it.”
Semien, along with the rest of the A’s players, showed their respect for their teammate’s loss, Monday, with the initials GP written onto the right side of their game caps — on the left, “RC” in honor of teammate Yusmeiro Petit‘s mother Rubia, who died two weeks ago.
When Piscotty returned to the field, the A’s fan base took advantage of its opportunity to shower Piscotty with love.
Emotional standing O for Stephen's first AB. Then he singled for Gretchen. pic.twitter.com/RvY80qu7Z0
— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) May 9, 2018
There was a lot going on in Piscotty’s first at-bat back with the club. Adoration from the less than 10,000 in attendance coaxed some emotion from Piscotty, who appeared to be fighting back tears before nodding to the crowd and tapping his chest.
Piscotty said Wednesday that the heart tap is something directly from him his mother, something she did to express her love in her weakened state nearing the end.
Perhaps less obvious was the little tip of the cap from the Astros, most notably third baseman Alex Bregman who pointed to Piscotty and clapped from his position, but also the pitcher, Lance McCullers Jr., who stepped off the back of the mound.
McCullers, who said the line-drive single he allowed to Piscotty is one he didn’t mind, told reporters after the game that he was happy to let his big league brother take the moment for himself:
“That’s tough, man. I feel for him and I feel for his family. … I just wanted him to have some time. I know that this game in general can be emotional and I can’t imagine what he was going through today. I wanted to give him some time to be able to come up and have the fans recognize him. They were. I just want that moment to be his.”
Stephen wasn’t the only Piscotty in Oakland Tuesday. His father, Michael, as well as his brothers, Nicholas and Austin, were in the crowd. Stephen was happy to share that moment with his family, including his mother, who he said he felt with him all day, including when he hit five home runs in five swings during batting practice for the first time in his career:
“Meant a lot to me, and I know it meant a lot to him (Michael) and to my entire family. We feel so at home here. The fans, the right-field crew out there has embraced us with open arms. I cracked up a few smiles looking up there with the drumsticks in their hand. That was cool.”
Sean Manaea, the A’s starting pitcher, called the the at-bat — along with the ovation and the hit — a cool moment, saying he “definitely got the chills.”
Piscotty, his family and the A’s Community Fund have opened a YouCaring collection with donations going to ALS research and the ALS Therapy Development Institute in honor of Gretchen, with the A’s saying they will match donations up to $50,000. As of noon Wednesday, the crowd funding efforts had passed the $50,000 mark, reaching $55,895.
Piscotty took a minute to discuss the effects of the disease (know as Lou Gehrig‘s Disease):
“ALS robs of you many things. You can’t move. You can’t talk. I’m sure people can imagine how difficult that is.”
And how his mother dealt with it:
“I can’t imagine what she was going through, what she was feeling. Putting on that front like she was OK. I think she was doing that for us. She was just so strong. That was one of things we stressed in the last week as things were kind of shaping to kind of be the end — just making sure she know how impressed we were and proud of her we were for how hard she fought. She’s just a warrior.”
“ALS needs the funding. It’s going to such a good cause that it warms my heart. I want to keep the momentum going. Once the dust settles, I’m speaking with my agent. We’re going to come up with some other cool ways to raise money. It’s going to be my mission. I’m prepared to accept it.”