Braden recalls Mother's Day perfect game
A's lefty celebrates the one-year anniversary of his perfect game
OAKLAND -- Dallas Braden's grandmother has watched it nearly 20 times on DVD. At least once a month, she insists. Not every minute of it, but always the last few frames.
Braden, himself, has yet to relive it through film -- "I don't know if I ever will," he says -- but admittedly thinks about it every day.
But when recalling his perfect game, on the day he entered baseball lore nearly one year ago, the A's lefty says he doesn't think about the actual performance, not one of the 27 outs he tallied in a row against a Tampa Bay team that had baseball's best record at the time.
"I do think about it constantly," Braden said. "Every day, and it's only because I think about my mom every day."
Back in the same room in which he addressed reporters following his perfecto on May 9, 2010 -- fittingly and, somewhat, miraculously given his well-documented story, on Mother's Day -- Braden relaxes in a chair, picking at a piece of Oreo ice cream cake.
For almost 30 minutes, he revisits the magnitude of his achievement and the memory he created not only for himself and an inspired nation but for his grandmother, Peggy Lindsey. She is the selfless woman who has been by Braden's side since birth, and raised him single-handedly while running a motel following his mother's death to skin cancer when he was in high school.
"I think I have a little more appreciation now for the significance of the whole undertone of what happened that day and where I had come from," Braden said. "It's so weird because I've talked about this story so often and I've been asked questions from the time that I was drafted about the road I traveled as a youngster, where I've come from, things I've gone through, and to actually sit back and listen to myself answer these questions and realize what I've gone through and realize what it actually means to accomplish something like that ..."
He pauses, rests his fork down and can only laugh while shaking his head in disbelief before continuing.
"I mean, if you want to talk about stars aligning -- I know it was a day game, but they were all in a row," he said. "That's the only way that something like that happens."
"You would seriously have to call [director Steven] Spielberg and plan all of that out. You'd have to sit down and write that story for it to be true. That happened. I have a DVD of that. That's really hard for me to wrap my brain around because I don't know that I've had a perfect inning since that day, let alone an entire game's worth, and my grandma was there. I didn't have to call her and tell her about it. We have tangible proof and that everlasting memory."
Still, Lindsey, who became a media darling following the historic day for her equally quirky and entertaining remarks as her grandson, can't help but put it on her home television in Stockton every once in awhile.
She experiences that same excitement that overtook her on the day it happened, the same overwhelming and anxious feeling when Braden's final pitch to Gabe Kapler bounced its way toward shortstop Cliff Pennington, who threw the ball over to Daric Barton at first base for the final out.
"It's like it's a whole new game every time I watch it," Lindsey said. "He's my favorite subject. I never get tired of watching him."
Kapler's groundball seemingly lives in Braden's subconscious now, toying with the hurler as he is constantly forced to decipher dream from reality.
"It really is almost like a dream, and it's like when the last out was made I woke up," he said. "And it's one of those dreams where you wake up and it almost hurts to wake up because it's so real. What you experienced was so vivid, and I feel like I'm just drifting in and out of consciousness from here on out."
The realness of that day hits Braden hard and often when he's approached by friends and strangers who offer sincere thank you messages to the 27-year-old kid from Stockton. They recount their stories of Braden's perfect game bringing them closer with their own motherly figures, after watching the game that served as something of a triumph of imperfections.
"Every time someone comes up and shares that with me, they're sharing that with me for the very first time, so it all comes flooding back, like it's the very first time, like it's just the day after it happened," he said.
Braden welcomes those serendipitous moments, no matter the time and place, be it at Bed Bath & Beyond, the local grocery store or on the streets -- all have happened -- as they help trigger memories that he maybe would have otherwise disregarded.
"I think, to a fault, I try to forget about the past, and it sometimes doesn't allow me to appreciate where I've been and maybe some things that I've experienced," he said. "I've gone through some negative things that I'd just rather not think about, rather not feel. I think anytime something happens, I just process it and then move on.
"I think the game has done that to me, not being able to dwell on a bad outing. I could probably take some more time and reflect on the perfect game, but I'm just so steadfast in my approach and where I want to be. I don't want to be stagnant, especially in my own memory."
He is anything but that when thinking of his late mother, Jodie Atwood, whose tireless work and countless sacrificial actions are anything but forgotten.
Appreciation for the game
"Throw-up" was the name of the game, and Braden was its biggest fan.
Nevermind the barbed wire that surrounded him outside the run-down apartment complex he called home, one of many throughout Braden's unstable but unconditionally loved childhood days. He was going to play anyway.
"I would tell my mom I was going outside," he recalls, "and I would throw the baseball up in the air to myself for hours and hours and hours."
Many of his other hours were spent in the parking lot, a space he utilized as a 7-year-old to sell baseball cards -- "I knew that's where the traffic was," he says -- and converse with any passersby, including a middle-aged Native American man he invited over for dinner and turned into a long-time friend.
Atwood eventually created a strike zone for her son, a square of duct tape placed against a brick wall. Braden threw to that square every day. He didn't have a brother or a sister with whom he could engage in a game of catch, so that square became his partner since, well, the wall was going to send the ball right back.
Atwood was never an athlete herself, but she was set on making Braden one. And Lindsey had no choice but to come along for the ride, as she played the dual role of grandmother and parent to Braden while he combated Stockton's unruly streets and hardscrabble neighborhood.
"I always tried to be the stern parent," Lindsey says. "Jodie stayed calm. She could call his every move."
Atwood also watched his every move, whether by moving the chains at his football games just to secure the best view in the house, or keeping him still as a young boy at the Stockton Ports' Minor League ballpark, where, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, Braden would ultimately take to the mound as a professional ballplayer years later.
"She wasn't the type of mom who took me to the Ports games to let me run around," Braden said. "She said, 'You're going to sit right here, we're going to watch this baseball game. We're going to watch all nine innings, and if there's bonus baseball we'll be here for that too.' There was an appreciation for the game at an early age."
Age 4, to be exact. Around that same time, Atwood enrolled Braden in Little League. She rarely was absent for a practice and missed just one game during the next 13 years of his life, when she was consigned to a hospital bed after back surgery.
"The day she got out," Lindsey said, "I took her home, she changed clothes, and we went to a ballgame."
Lindsey vividly recalls a particular game at Amos Alonzo Stagg High School, where Braden's Delta Kings were playing against Bear Creek High. A handful of sprinkles began falling on the field, and a friend shared an umbrella over Atwood's head in the stands.
"They were holding an Oakland A's umbrella," Lindsey said. "That was her last ballgame."
The perfect gift
It was the last one for which she was physically present, at least, for on May 20, 2001, she succumbed to melanoma, leaving her mother and son to do what they've come to do best -- take care of each other.
But much like that A's umbrella did for her on that rainy day nine years before, Atwood hovered over the team's Oakland Coliseum on May 9, 2010, her presence very much felt amidst an overcast sky as Braden prepared to make his 53rd Major League start.
It marked not the culmination but the continuing journey of a promise Braden made to Lindsey following the death of his mother. He had been drafted by Atlanta in the 46th round of the 2001 Draft or, as he gently puts it, "the 947,000th round."
Still, it was quite the accomplishment given Braden had played just two years of high school baseball, the other two years taken away from him because of poor grades and wrong decisions made off the field, which Lindsey insistently put a stop to quickly.
"I promised my grandma, 'You'll see me play Major League baseball,'" he said. "She cried and cried and cried when I would tell her that because she wanted it to be real but she also understood, I think, how far-fetched of an idea it was."
Rather than joining the Braves system, Braden pitched for two years at American River Community College in Stockton and a year at Texas Tech before signing with Oakland as a 24th-round Draft choice in 2004.
He spent four years in Oakland's Minor League system, including a stint for his hometown Stockton Ports in 2005 and '06, before making his Major League debut in '07 in Baltimore, where Lindsey sat in the stands as witness to the promise made six years prior.
"Every step I took, every decision I made, was with that in mind, to get me to that point," Braden said. "I saw the sacrifices she made, working where she did, working how hard she did, and the things she went through. My ultimate goal was to alleviate that stress for her."
Hundreds of days and a handful of highs and lows in Braden's career later -- the latter coming in the form of demotions and injuries -- Lindsey again found herself in the crowd on that fateful day in May. Just as she does every time her grandson takes the mound in Oakland, she made the hour-long drive from Stockton to celebrate Mother's Day, with Braden on the mound and Atwood watching on from above.
The clouds gradually disappeared with each out made, and the ensuing events of that day are now forever embedded in baseball history and represent "the best thing that's happened to me," Braden said.
"You always think about the perfect gift," he explained. "You sit there and you rack your brain during the holidays. But this memory was something that, literally, was the one and only thing that I could have given her, and I actually gave it to her. It's like being the dish washer and actually being able to afford that dream home for your mother or father.
"That's exactly what happened to me. I'm your average run-of-the-mill dude, and I was able to give my grandmother a memory that means so much to us on a day that will mean so much to us for the rest of our lives."
A new set of keys
This Mother's Day, Lindsey knows, won't be the same. Braden, nursing a stiff shoulder, is on the disabled list, unable to contribute to the game that's brought him and Lindsey so much shared happiness. He's also facing the 10-year anniversary of his mother's death.
No Mother's Day gift will take away from that sadness, nor top the perfecto that helped ease it last year.
That didn't stop Braden from giving his grandmother yet another surprise, though -- this time in the form of a new Mercedes-Benz SUV, which Lindsey drove straight off the showroom floor after Braden had enticed her near the lot by pretending he needed help transporting a TV stand.
"I said, 'Give me your car keys,' and I handed her a Mercedes key," he said, "I told her, 'This will open any one you want.'
"She likes that the seats hug her and the headlights move like eyeballs when she turns."
It was the least Braden can do for the woman who's given him everything, the warrior who, he says, "is to grandmotherhood what a closer is to a baseball team."
"Just an almighty stopper, just the one who you know is going to do it," he continued. "That's who she's been for me since birth, that go-to. She's been the best player on my team my whole life."
Braden didn't need to throw a perfect game to come to these conclusions. It has simply allowed him to share them with the rest of the world.
"He's just the greatest," Lindsey said. "He gave me one of the best days of my life. To be there with him, right when it happened, knowing Jodie was there too, it's just incredible."