The Bishop Family of San Carlos - A Story of Love, Hope & Inspiration
Originally Posted on 12/2/15
“Fastest Runner: OF Braden Bishop, San Carlos CA, has plus-plus speed in workouts and is making more of an impact in games.”
That was the scouting report I read online at Baseball America for the Seattle Mariners 2015 Draft Report Card.
It is what prompted me to reach out to Braden’s Dad, Randy Bishop, and meet for a cup of coffee at Starbucks on Laurel Avenue in downtown San Carlos.
As a San Carlos resident and member of the San Carlos Little League Board, I thought doing an article on Braden would make a great baseball story.
I was wrong.
It was so much more.
The story of the Bishop Family is certainly one of baseball, but more importantly it is one of love, hope, and inspiration.
The Phone Call
“I remember sitting in my Seattle apartment when they told me and it just knocked me off my feet. I was sitting on the couch and I just slipped onto the ground. I didn’t even know what to do, who to talk to?”
That was Braden’s reaction to the phone call he received in August 2014 when his Dad and mother Suzy gave him the news.
Suzy was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Randy, Braden, and his younger brother Hunter had noticed subtle changes in Suzy over the years.
There were moments of forgetfulness.
But we all have moments of forgetfulness that we just shake off as “one of those days”.
How do we know when it is something more?
“Suzy was in perfect physical condition, loved to run and hike, and she was careful about her diet” said Randy.
The only physical problem she had were the migraines.
She had been battling severe migraines for a decade, but after many MRI’s and PET scans, there were no answers.
Randy encouraged Suzy to get tested for Alzheimer’s, so they could eliminate their worst fear.
Early-onset Alzheimer’s is usually caused by a genetic predisposition, but Suzy was tested and did not have the gene.
But Randy and Suzy kept testing and finally Stanford Hospital was able to run conclusive tests that confirmed their worst fears.
52 year old Suzy Bishop had early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Early-onset Alzheimer’s is the term used when Alzheimer’s strikes people younger than 65.
It is a rare form of the disease that affects just 5% of the people who have it, around 200,000 or so in the United States.
So as Braden listened to the news being delivered on the phone, a whole range of emotions overtook him.
“What if my Mom doesn’t remember who I am in a year?”
“How can I concentrate on baseball when my Mom needs my support?”
Braden wanted to come home and be with his Mom, but Randy convinced him to stay in Seattle.
Braden was a Junior at the University of Washington and it was the most important year of his baseball life.
He was going to get drafted in the June 2015 Amateur Baseball Draft.
The only question was how high he would go, and his performance at Washington would dictate that.
Randy and Suzy
I arrived at Starbucks fifteen minutes early.
I had an 8:00 a.m. meeting with Randy and I am not a morning person to begin with.
I needed a cup of coffee to kick in or I might stumble through this interview.
I had no idea what Randy looked like.
How would I even know when he walked in?
And then a tall man with broad shoulders and gray hair approached, looking like he could still turn around a good fastball.
And then I saw the Washington Huskies logo on his shirt and I knew it was him.
Randy first met Suzy on a movie set in 1986.
Suzy was an Assistant for Randy’s father who was a movie producer at Universal Studios in Hollywood.
Randy comes from a long line of movie producers.
His Great Grandfather produced silent movies including many Charlie Chaplin films.
His Grandfather produced “Route 66” and “Car 54, Where are You?”
And his Father produced “Columbo”, “Adam-12”, and one of my personal favorite shows as a kid “Charlie’s Angels.”
Randy gave the movie producing life a shot as well, but “it just wasn’t for me”.
Instead he settled into a 20 year law enforcement career and now owns his own private detective company in Alameda.
But like the movie “Sliding Doors”, Randy’s meeting with Suzy almost never happened.
Randy was a talented baseball shortstop and was playing his freshman year at UNLV when he tore his rotator cuff.
Nowadays you can have surgery and make a full recovery.
In 1986 though, it was a baseball death sentence.
Randy’s luck had run out in Las Vegas.
Depressed that his baseball career was over, Randy headed to Los Angeles to work for his father.
It was there he met Suzy.
They connected immediately not only with their movie producing background but they were also both college athletes, as Suzy ran track at UCLA.
“I knew the first time I met her that she was the one”, said Randy.
They married in 1991 and have been together ever since, with a 25 year anniversary to look forward to in 2016.
After working as an Assistant for Randy’s Dad, Suzy continued to work in the film industry.
She moved up the ranks and eventually became the youngest female Vice President of Production at NBC.
“She started shows like JAG and Law & Order, and she won an Emmy for ‘Separate But Equal’, which was the story of US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall”, said Randy.
Suzy’s job had her flying around the world and she made sure her family got to travel with her as much as they could.
Braden and Hunter were able to be on set watching Suzy work in exotic locations such as Luxembourg, Prague, and London.
Eventually the Bishop’s settled in Vancouver, Canada, where Suzy was the Vice President of the Film School in British Columbia.
The Bishop’s moved to the Bay Area from Vancouver in 2005.
It had come down to two choices of where to live, San Carlos or Palo Alto.
Randy smiled as he said, “We were all set to live in Palo Alto. We had a place ready but then they told us they don’t accept pets so we took our dog and moved to San Carlos.”
That certainly benefited the San Carlos Little League, who immediately got two impact talents added to the league.
Braden played his one and only year in Majors for the Cincinnati Reds and then went on to star for the St. Francis High baseball and football teams.
Hunter played four years in the San Carlos Little League system.
He then went on to Serra High where he played centerfield for the baseball team and wide receiver for the football team.
He is 18 now and this past summer he played two elite showcase tournaments for the best amateur baseball prospects in the country.
Hunter first played the Area Code Games in Long Beach CA, and then played the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field.
“Hunter is not as open as Braden about his Mom’s condition, but he supports everything that Braden does” said Randy.
“And who knows, perhaps he will follow Braden’s lead as he gets a little bit older and has a bigger platform.”
And Hunter will certainly have that bigger platform soon enough, as he is a high school senior and deciding on baseball and football offers from several Division I universities right now.
Randy gave me Braden’s contact information and urged me to reach out to him.
I took him up on it and talked to Braden for about 20 minutes over Thanksgiving weekend.
I am sure Braden would have talked a lot longer, but I wanted to be respectful of his time since he was only in town for a few days over Thanksgiving and had a lot of old friends to catch up with.
But yet he was not in any rush during our conversation and was composed, respectful, and thoughtful in his answers.
Randy had told me that Braden was a leader and people followed him, and I now understood why he was named Captain of the Washington Huskies.
It’s not easy these days for young kids to lead by example and be a role model.
With just one click of the button, having just a few too many drinks at a party can get posted on Facebook or tweeted to thousands and then the kid gets a “partying” reputation.
It made me even more impressed with how mature Braden was for his age.
And it also made me thankful that Facebook was not around when I was in college.
As the parent of an eight year old son and someone who coaches two Little League baseball teams, I asked Braden what advice he would give to a Little League kid.
“I would encourage them to play many sports. Don’t just play baseball because you can easily get burned out on it. I played soccer, football and basketball and my athleticism in baseball was only enhanced by playing these other sports.”
Braden also said, “and most important don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something if it is in your heart to do it. If you believe in yourself, nothing can stop you.”
Sage words of advice from a 22 year old.
Pulling for a Cure
Braden was devastated after the shocking phone call and news from his parents.
He was always full of energy, loved to workout, and the first player to show up for practice.
But the Huskies Team Captain was just not the same…the energy, the fire, the passion that he had always shown for baseball and for life, was just not there.
Washington strength and conditioning coach Dave Rak had noticed something was wrong.
Rak was concerned and called Braden into his office and Braden explained his situation.
A few days later Rak had a proposal for Braden.
Rak had been wanting to hold a charity deadlift competition for a long time, but he wasn’t sure what charity to honor.
Now he knew.
“I asked him if the charity deadlift competition was something he would be comfortable with. He was fired up. His face lit up and he was super excited about it” said Rak.
From that day on, the spark returned to Braden and he was his old self again.
Braden didn’t want his Husky teammates to feel obliged to attend, so he told them “if you can make it, great…if not, no big deal, I totally understand.”
All 34 of his teammates showed up.
So did players at other schools and Arizona Diamondbacks 3B Jake Lamb.
In all over 200 people attended the event which was called “Pulling for a Cure”, and almost $7,000 was raised for Alzheimer’s research.
A spark was lit under Braden and although “Pulling for a Cure” was over, Braden’s work was just beginning.
Raising awareness about Alzheimer’s was now his mission.
Winter baseball scrimmages had begun at the University of Washington and Braden received a call from his Dad.
“Don’t forget you are playing for Mom” said Randy.
Braden grabbed a black sharpie and wrote it on his forearm, “4Mom”.
He has written it in every game he has played in since.
“4Mom” is the slogan that drives Braden every day.
“4Mom” is the slogan that motivates Braden to reach the Major Leagues.
It was May of 2015 and Braden noticed the Huskies would be playing at the Arizona Wildcats on Mother’s Day.
He was friends with a few Wildcat players, having played with and against them in the Cape Code league the previous summer.
So he reached out to Arizona 2B Scott Kingery and pitched the idea of having a “4Mom” Mother’s Day Game, where players would write “4Mom” on themselves.
Braden’s cause was his Mom’s fight against Alzheimer’s, but he wanted the game to be a tribute to all Mom’s.
With the help of Washington Sports Information Director Brian Tom, Braden’s idea became a reality.
The “4Mom” Mother’s Day game was a smashing success for players, fans, and of course Mom’s.
“It totally exceeded my expectations”, said Braden. “I couldn’t have even imagined it like this. It caught fire and spread on social media. So many people reached out to me, not only on Arizona’s team but in the states of Arizona, Washington and California. The Seattle Mariners wrote it on their arms and spread it on social media. Even the umpires did it.”
Randy and Suzy were in attendance that day as the Huskies defeated the Wildcats 3-2 led by Braden’s two hits and two runs scored.
But on this Mother’s Day, everyone was a winner.
Braden was drafted in the 3rd round by the Seattle Mariners in June 2015.
The Mariners did not have a 1st or 2nd round pick so they used their 1st overall selection on Braden.
Braden was assigned to Short Season League with the Everett Aquasox.
He had a breakthrough season and was Top 3 in the team in average, runs, hits, total bases, and stolen bases.
He was voted the fastest baserunner and best defender amongst all Mariners 2015 draft picks by Baseball America.
But even with all of the successes and the transition to professional baseball life, Braden stayed true to his mission.
He recently put on an Alzheimer’s charity event where he auctioned off an autographed hat from Seattle Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch and an autographed helmet from Seahawks FG Kicker Steve Hauschka.
I asked Braden if he would continue his Alzheimer’s campaign if he were to make it to the majors.
“Absolutely” said Braden without hesitation. “This is just the tip of the iceberg. The sky’s the limit when you have a platform as big as the major leagues."
Make it Count
It was approaching 9 a.m. and I had been talking to Randy for almost an hour.
I was scheduled to work the Little League Registration that started in a few minutes, so I was running out of time.
However I had one final question.
“What are you most proud of about your sons?” I asked.
The question seemed to surprise Randy, as he took a minute to gather his thoughts.
Randy choked up just a bit as he said, “Well there’s just so much, I don’t know where to start. They care. They care about people. They care about making a difference. They are humble and do not talk about themselves. They have a discipline for the path in life they have chosen and do not give in to peer pressure. They are leaders and people are drawn to them. They care. They just really care.”
Not once did he mention the word baseball.
With all Hunter and Braden have already accomplished at such a young age in baseball, Randy Bishop was more proud of his sons for the young men they have become.
A few minutes later I was off to Registration when I got a call from Randy.
He was meeting Hunter later in the day and wanted to stop by Registration so I could meet him.
I could tell that it really meant a lot to Randy that I wanted to share his family’s story and create awareness of early-onset Alzheimer’s.
And as for Suzy, she has her good days and bad days.
“She can remember running track in Minnesota as a kid and easily recall other events in her early life. But then she can forget something she said a few minutes earlier”, said Randy.
But there are still many good days.
Suzy enjoys hiking, playing with her dog, writing, and she recently has gone back to her film roots and become involved in a documentary about her battle with Alzheimer’s.
One of the things Randy and Suzy enjoy most is listening to Braden’s Aquasox games on the Internet.
And in just a few months they will get to enjoy Hunter’s games as well.
With Suzy facing a disease that has no cure, there are many unanswered questions.
If Braden reaches the big leagues, will she remember he made it?
“There is a sense of urgency to perform well and make every day a productive day, to make it count. When I make my Major League debut, I want my Mom to be there. The sooner I can get there the better her chances will be to enjoy that moment.”
Tomorrow is uncertain for Suzy.
But there is certainty in today.
Today she has the love of her family.
Today she can go on a hike, read a book, and do the things she enjoys.
Today she has the pride of a Mother who has raised two sons who have turned out to be caring, responsible young men.
Today she has the dream to be in attendance when both her sons make their Major League debut.
And today she has the hope that a cure will soon be found for Alzheimer’s.