There are certain moments in a person’s life that shape and define who they are as a human being. Most times, this comes through a great tragedy or struggle which tests a person’s resolve and teaches them a hard lesson about the realities of life. As a sophomore at Waipahu High School near Honolulu, Jerome Williams had his moment.
He could tell something was wrong with his mother, Deborah, long before anyone told him. She had stopped coming to his baseball games and when Jerome would get home from school, she would already be in bed. Eventually, there wasn’t any way to hide the truth from Williams. There was always a feeling that something was happening, bu nothing could have prepared him for the news: his mother was battling breast cancer. Deborah would go through two years of treatment before doctors believed they had successfully isolated and destroyed the disease and that Deborah would be making a full recovery. She was going to be a survivor.
But then in 2000, barely a year after Williams had been drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the first round, Deborah Williams experienced a loss of vision in one eye while driving from Las Vegas to San Diego. She would undergo more testing that would reveal another tumor, one that Deborah would not be able to overcome. During spring training 2011, Jerome Williams got the call that he had expected since his mother’s relapse but still wasn’t ready to receive. His brother simply told him, “You’ve got to come home,” and just like that, Williams had lost his mother, who was just 43 years old, before he could express, or even realize, how important she was to him.
There are plenty of things Williams would choose to do differently if he could go back and tell his mom how special she was. As a young kid 19 year old kid, he had no idea how to handle such a terribly powerful emotional blow. He went out of his way to avoid his mother’s sickbed. He would stay out with friends, buy things, drink…anything but be at home reminded of the terminal illness ripping through his mother. The idiocy of youth is such that you can turn away from the woman who raised you, who was the nurturing voice for Jerome and his two brothers growing up, without a second thought for anyone but yourself.
When he finally realized the error of his ways, it was too late. After months of running away, his mother didn’t want him near her towards the end, telling him to “Get the hell out of my face,” when he finally tried to come to her side. He was a kid with too much on his plate, watching his mother die as his girlfriend was having their first child, Tre-Jordan. Jerome Williams was just 19-years old when all this came down on his head.
He would make amends with his mother and spend more time with her during the winter of 2000, but before long, Deborah had to be admitted to hospice and Jerome was pulled away to spring training. Remembering that call from his brother still rips Jerome apart inside, constantly thinking of all those things he didn’t do that brought his mother so much pain. Now, as a Los Angeles Angel, over a decade after her passing, Jerome Williams is doing something to celebrate her life and bring attention to her cause every time he takes the mound.
Jerome Williams is the only major league player to wear pink every time he takes the field with his now signature pink glove. While all of baseball picks up the pink on Mother’s Day, Williams chooses to celebrate his mom every time he pitches. He picked up the pink Zett-model glove while pitching in Taiwan and used it when he came back to the states in Triple-A during his worldwide tour to get back to the big leagues. He finally got a chance to use the glove in the majors last September, and was so nervous about using it that he sent an attendant to the umpires to make sure it was all right. He would give up just one hit over eight innings against the Seattle Mariners. He hasn’t taken to glove off since.
In addition to the pink glove, Williams also remembers his mom by wearing remnants of the puka-shell necklace that she left him sprinkled in his cleats and glued to the inside of his cap. As a 30-year old man, he remembers the scared 19-year old kid who did just about everything wrong in showing his mom how much he cared, and knows that no gesture at this point can change the hurt he caused. But that won’t change a thing for Jerome Williams, the man, because he’ll continue to go out to that hill every fifth day and honor Mom…no matter what day of the year it is.