My mom died right after I turned 28. She was hit by a car while walking down the street from the house I grew up in. It was a Tuesday night when I got the call from my dad. Cassie and I had just gotten home from the gym. We were hungry, cranky, and getting ready to make dinner. Then my phone rang and I don’t remember many details after the phone call.
Dee Gordon’s mom was murdered by an ex-boyfriend when he was six years old. She was shot in the chest by the same man who, weeks earlier, young Dee had hit in the head with an eight-pound weight to get him to stop choking his mother.
Mothers, lost in a flash. Lives changed forever, in a flash. I line up both of these tragedies in my mind because of a quote from Dee Gordon in an excellent recent profile by Jayson Jenks for The Athletic. Of every quote, every sound bite I’ve ever heard from an athlete, I can’t think of one I’ve related to on a deeper level than this:
“I always felt like nobody cared if I’m having a bad day,” he says. “So I just never act like I have a bad day.”
On the surface, that might not mean much to most people. But, there’s heavy subtext there. If you know what he went through and if you too have lost your mother well before you were ready to say goodbye (is anyone ever ready?), then you immediately know what he means. It made me think of this passage, which is a major theme from a book I read after my mom died, and it’s stuck with me ever since:
“It does not matter how self-confident you are—losing a mother deprives you of a chief cheerleader. A friend once told me: ‘I lost the one person who would love me no matter what happened in life. I always knew my mother would be there for me.’”
If you are fortunate to have a healthy and functional relationship with your mother, then you know that no one cares about you on quite the same level of detail as your mother. If you don’t know that yet, you may realize it one day. I learned it the hard way, well before I was ready for it. My wife learned it the hard way, too, when her mom died from liver failure at the end of 2016. Your wife/husband/father/sibling/best friend all care about you immensely, but just not quite in the same way your mother loves you. My understanding of it deepened when I became a parent last year, both from the perspective of a son and as a father. But, the innate, eternal love I feel for my daughter must only be a fraction of how most mothers feel about the child they actually grew within their bodies and gave birth to.
To have a mother’s love stripped away from you at six years old is unfathomable. I think about how I felt most days for the first couple years after my mom died and I try to imagine what that’s like for a six-year-old, and I just can’t. So, when Dee says he figures no one ever cared if he was having a bad day, that’s coming from a place of such deep hurting that I just want everything good in the world to happen for that man. And to give him a hug. More on that later.
Dee Gordon has been so much fun to watch play for the Mariners. The massive high-fives, the stolen bases, the extra bases, the easy defense at second and even in centerfield, where he’d literally never played an MLB inning before—it’s all been a blast. Has he hit well enough to justify the leadoff spot? No, not quite. Is he currently a better fit at the bottom of lineup? Yes, definitely. These things are working themselves out as we speed toward the final month and a half of the season.
On Wednesday, he’d been moved down to the 9 spot and the Mariners were trying desperately to not get swept by their direct opposition to a playoff spot, the Oakland Athletics. It had been a ridiculous and frustrating series, culminating with 11 innings of scoreless baseball. Enter the 12th inning where Mike Zunino is working a full count. Devaris “Dee” Gordon stands in the on-deck circle, contemplative. Did his past creep into the margins of his thoughts, like he mentioned it sometimes does in the Jenks profile?
He had played center field today for the first time since the Canó suspension. Probably feeling a little tired. Probably pretty ready to get out of the Oakland Coliseum. The Mariners had gotten nothing going offensively all game, but Zunino works a walk, the first walk given up by an A’s pitcher all game.
First pitch to Dee.
After Dee crossed the plate, he jokingly kissed his biceps, much to his teammates’ glee. He gave and received his flying high fives to those gathered at the top of the dugout. But then when he continued into the dugout, he received some of the most tender, sincere, loving, and supportive hugs that I’ve ever seen outside of a playoff or World Series celebration. I mean, look at these hugs! The weight and meaningfulness of Dee’s accomplishment is not lost on these baseball men.
It’s not the same as having his mother in the crowd, cheering, but his teammates definitely care about Dee’s day.
Dee Gordon isn’t just some ballplayer, marking down service time so he can make a living and retire comfortably. He’s a loyal, loving, feeling human being who deserves the good things that come with his accomplishments. We all do. But knowing what Dee has been through, it just makes me root all that much harder for his success.