No player’s stock is skyrocketing in the Mariners farm system right now like this University of Washington graduate.
Braden Bishop’s hitting, he’s fielding, he’s running – each at pretty impressive levels so far. His stellar 2017 minor league season between high Single-A Modesto, Double-A Arkansas and an Arizona Fall League impressed the Mariners’ staff enough to hand him a non-roster invite to spring training.
“It’s been unbelievable,” he said. “Just to be around Dee Gordon, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager … seeing how they work on a day-to-day basis is pretty huge.”
But on Sunday he was further reminded of why this means so much to him.
His father scoured through the stack of all Braden’s old birthday cards he had stashed in his bedroom. He mailed one to his son from Braden’s 14th birthday.
Suzy Bishop had written how proud she was of him, that she loved him. And this:
“Don’t ever lose sight of how important your family is,” Suzy wrote. “And how important it is to stay humble and kind. Because that’s who you are.”
She unable to write those cards anymore because she was diagnosed almost four years ago with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which has no cure. She can’t communicate, rarely recognizes him and she can’t travel to watch Braden’s games.
So the greatest benefit to all his success in baseball is every step is a bigger platform and greater opportunity for him to raise awareness for the terrible disease.
“Those are memories I don’t have anymore,” an emotional Braden said of the card. “My mom can’t write anymore and she can’t talk like that anymore. It’s so brutal, man. But when I read that stuff, it kind of brings me back to who she was because a lot of times you only live in the moment and I only see who she is now. It’s not even close to who she was.
“The toughest part about the whole season is just not being able to see her. There’s definitely days where it’s harder than others.”
Like when he talks about it. The more he does, the tougher it gets to stay composed.
“But at the same time, I want to be talking about it,” he said. “That’s my main goal. That’s my whole thing is I want to talk about it and I think the reason why this story hits with people is because it comes off so personal and genuine. Which it is. I make it very clear that I don’t talk about this for any reason other than to make people aware and to educate.”
And he believes this has made him a better player – because he’s a better person.
Just look at what the 24-year-old outfielder compiled last season – in 119 games he had a triple-slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) of .306/.393/.413. And in 41 games after his promotion to Double-A, Bishop slashed .336/.417/.448.
He was drafted in the third round out of UW in 2015. He’s ranked as the No. 4 prospect in the Mariners organization by Baseball America.
The Mariners have a lot of outfield depth already slated to start the season with Triple-A Tacoma, so it’s unlikely Bishop starts the season there instead of Double-A, but not out of the realm of possibility.
“The whole year for him was obviously a big one,” Double-A Arkansas manager Daren Brown said. “A lot of movement forward and putting himself in a good spot. He can run, he has made some adjustments at the plate that have seemed to work for him, and now it’s about going out wherever he goes this year and trying to just improve on what he started last season.”
This comes after he hit .273 with 87 strikeouts in 2016.
He reworked some of his swing, but he said the biggest thing was his coaches helped him revamp his mentality from Pac-12 small-ball play to …
“An intent to make damage,” Bishop said. “Not just make contact. The Pac-12 game has always been small ball, hit it around the infield. But the way I hit in college is a lot of outs here and I realized that quickly. You hit the ball on the ground here and you are out. So I took that mentality – do damage.”
Now he’s working on applying that to the base paths. He had 22 stolen bases last season, but he knows he has the speed to get to at least 30.
That’s where Dee Gordon comes in. Bishop said he arrived at spring training on Feb. 6 – four days before pitchers and catchers were scheduled for their first official workout – because he wanted to get in on extra time with Gordon and other big league players.
He’s said he’s been peppering Gordon (who led the majors with 60 steals last season) for base running advice.
“We had a discussion last year – it’s something that going into this year he needs to take off in,” Brown said. “He runs so well that he should be a threat every time he gets on base. And, more than anything, it’s about taking the fear out of getting thrown out. Guys that steal a lot of bases can’t be afraid to get thrown out.
“But I agree with him – I think he can be a guy who gets 30 steals, and if he gets on base enough it could be more.”
He walked off one of the Mariners’ spring training fields after a Tuesday Triple-A scrimmage as the team’s leadoff hitter. He stole a base for the second consecutive game. But the first thing he spoke about?
“Two hits today,” he smiled. “So that’s $20 for my cause.”
He announced this plan on Twitter just a few days before he showed up for workouts. He said he’d donate money to Alzheimer’s research for every hit he gets this spring, pledging $10 for every single, $20 for doubles, $30 for triples and $40 for homers.
As hard as this is for he and his younger brother, Hunter Bishop, who plays just up the road at Arizona State, Braden always pushes himself to talk about his mom. He started this all by writing “4MOM” on his forearm during games. Now that’s also on his shoes, glove, hat and certainly on his mind. It inspired his charity, 4momalz.com.
His plan was just to raise awareness. It has transformed into much more than that.
“I never thought it would get so many personal connections and people wanting to share their stories with me and me bringing them hope with my story,” Bishop said. “And by them sharing their stories, it brings hope to me without them even realizing it – for sure. I think it provides such a good bridge, which I never thought of when I started it.
“And also, I felt like I’ve always been a pretty good teammate. But I kind of had to put myself aside last year and I think my whole situation off the field helped with that. This is really tough in ways, but I think it made me a better teammate. Way more genuine. Guys kind of understood what I was going through and I just wanted to be there for them because they were there for me through my whole situation.”
Although if he keeps producing like this on the field, he’ll have a lot of new teammates – and an even bigger platform for his cause.
“Anybody can be a good teammate,” Bishop said. “But when you become a genuine one I think it takes everybody’s game up and I think it lifts you, as well.
“And it’s the same with my situation off the field. When I meet people with the same stories as me I think it brings a genuine connection.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
4MOM – ALZHEIMER’S AWARENESS
Mariners prospect Braden Bishop, a former University of Washington standout, is helping raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease by wearing “4MOM” on his forearm, shoes, glove and hat during games and also donating money with every hit he gets.
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.