MLB: Grandmother gets to share perfect moment with A's Braden
By Carl Steward
The Oakland Tribune
OAKLAND, Calif. — It wasn't the perfect Mother's Day story, because unfortunately, Dallas Braden's mother wasn't there to be part of it. She died in 2001 of cancer.
But with Peggy Lindsey in the Oakland Coliseum stands to exhort her grandson as he made history Sunday with baseball's 19th perfect game, it was perhaps the next best thing to the perfect holiday-themed subplot. And an exceedingly touching one.
Just seconds after being mobbed by his teammates after retiring 27 consecutive Tampa Bay Rays, the A's Braden made a beeline for the stands and embraced Grandma Peggy, who moments before had tried to jump the rail to get to Dallas but was restrained by security.
"He just said, 'I love you,' " said Lindsey when they finally hooked up with the long hug that resonated nationally. "I said to him, 'Your mom would be so proud,' and I think that's kind of what he was thinking, too."
The scene was one of those heart-rending moments that almost superseded the accomplishment of the perfect game itself.
"When I saw him hugging his grandma, I was tearing up," said catcher Landon Powell. "It was hard to fight 'em back. He's had a lot of things happen to him in his life, and even the last few years, has had some unlucky things happen to him in the game of baseball. So that was special to see."
Braden claimed it was his grandmother who turned his life around when he was a party-hearty Stockton, Calif., teenager, steering him away from what might have become a career in the clink as opposed to one on a ball field.
Braden readily admits he was a bad seed throughout high school. He was booted off the baseball team twice, once as a freshman and again as a junior, because of grades and truancy. He said he once missed 79 days of school out of 81 during his junior year.
Then, at the beginning of his senior year, his mother, Jodie Atwood, was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer. She died before he finished high school.
At that point, Braden was pretty much off-the-charts out of control in terms of what he wanted to do with his life.
"I was not doing what I should have been doing," he said. "In fact, I was doing pretty much everything in my power to take every opportunity my mother and grandmother had given me and throw it away. But she wasn't going to let that happen."
Lindsey staged a one-on-one summit meeting in which she set her grandson straight.
"She just made it very clear to me that all the sacrifices that my mom had made and she had made and the life we had led up to that point were all to get me on a baseball field and to keep me out of jail," he said. "She also made it abundantly clear that I was not headed to the baseball field and I was pointed to the other place.
"That's when I kind of snapped my head around and realized that, yeah, I pretty much had one shot, and I need to jump on it."
Braden has made good on that one shot by becoming a solid major league pitcher at age 26, despite the fact that he was a mere 24th-round draft pick by the A's in 2004. Since debuting with a horrific 2007 season in which he was 1-8 with a 6.72 ERA, the left-hander has steadily gotten better and better, leading up to Sunday's perfect storm of a pitching performance.
That he did it on Mother's Day didn't surprise his grandma, herself a bit of a card who, in talking about Braden's controversial verbal battle with the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, said, "Let's forget it ... and stick it, A-Rod!"
When Eric Chavez heard the comment, he nearly doubled over with laughter.
"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, eh?" Chavez said.
Apparently not. Showing where Braden gets his knack for flavorful quotes, Lindsey reeled off a few herself in the postgame interview session, above and beyond the A-Rod zinger.
"Leave it to Dal to do something different, huh?" she said. "If you know Dal, then you know that's his way."
Asked when she started to get nervous about her grandson, she quipped, "About the seventh ... or about when he was 5 years old. Tee-Ball was really the beginning of it all."
When Braden was growing up in Stockton, he lived with both his mother and his grandmother, and the family barely made ends meet. Now, with Dallas owning his own house, she still lives a mere five blocks away and they have dinner together frequently. She even baby-sits his dog Diesel while he's on the road.
She never misses a home game when he pitches, and is usually surrounded by a large circle of vocal friends. She also makes a number of his road trips.
In short, Braden admitted that in the wake of his mother's death, his grandmother was his savior. But he still has trouble with Mother's Day, because it brings back painful memories.
"During the game, before the game, the night before the game," he said. "It hasn't been a joyous day for me in a while. But to know that I still get to come out and compete and play a game on that day, that makes it a little better. With my grandma in the stands, it makes it a lot better."
It made it an unforgettable day for a lot of people who witnessed one of the rarest of baseball achievements. Dallas delivered perfect pitching, and then Grandma followed up with the perfect postscript.
Stick it, A-Rod. Beautiful.