Sports have a way of bringing people together, and the American pastime of baseball is no exception. Whether it’s in a Major League ballpark or at a little league game, fans from around the country come together to bond and connect as a community. For Katie Russell Newland of Austin, Texas, baseball gave her a profound connection with her mother, as well as her fellow fans.
Newland remembers growing up in New Orleans with a mother who was compassionate, intelligent, and free-spirited. Her mother made the simplest of errands or tasks feel like an adventure. Newland herself was shy and introverted, but as she grew older, she began to open up.
“I started to realize that putting myself out into the world and being vulnerable actually had some benefits,” she said.
Love of the Game
Newland’s mother was passionate about baseball, but New Orleans didn’t—and still doesn’t—have a Major League team. Nevertheless, the two of them became ardent Chicago Cubs fans. Newland vividly remembers running home from school, throwing her backpack to the ground, and running to her mother’s bedroom to watch the game. Her mother would enjoy the game from a blue La-Z-Boy chair, while Newland would sit on her mother’s bed and lean up against the brass bed frame, intently watching the game.
Newland would go outside to her yard during the seventh-inning stretch, and make a batter’s box against the house with masking tape. She would throw pitches pretending she was on the pitcher’s mound at Wrigley Field.
“My love of baseball started as a young child because I wanted to emulate my mom and her love of the game,” Newland said. “Baseball really gives you an opportunity to connect to people because of the pace of the game, that’s part of why she fell in love with it.”
When Newland was 13, she and her mother went to see the Cubs play in Chicago. While they were eating at Harry Caray’s restaurant, an ambitious feat came to mind. They wanted to see if they could visit all 30 baseball stadiums in one season.
Tragically, Newland’s mother passed away from cancer in 2009 at age 69 before they could embark on the journey together. And Newland fought her own battle with cancer after she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and melanoma at 35. After eight rounds of chemotherapy and nearly a month of constant radiation treatment, she went into remission. And then she made the decision: She would go on the journey she had planned with her mother.
“I had the opportunity to reflect on my own life and what I wanted out of it. That really pushed me to go out into the world, and to see people, and to see communities, and to travel,” Newland said.
In 2015, Newland embarked on her tour of Major League Baseball—a personal journey to honor and connect with her late mother.
Newland distinctly remembers several experiences on her journey. She started her adventure in her mother’s hometown of Philadelphia on Opening Day, which also happened to be her mother’s birthday. When she went to watch the Pittsburg Pirates, she was surprised by a stunning cityscape she had never seen before. The Fourth of July at Fenway Park in Boston was hard to beat, but watching the Baltimore Orioles at one of the first modern-day ballparks was unique.
And then she made her childhood backyard dream come true: At Wrigley Field in Chicago, she threw the opening pitch.
Through these experiences, Newland learned how to be open, met fellow fans, and felt part of something bigger.
“There’s communal energy in a ballpark, and there’s power when everyone feels like you’re connected to something bigger than yourself. [My mother] modeled that much of her life,” Newland said.
“No matter your race, class, gender, political beliefs, or even your team affiliation—baseball offers us a shared humanity, and we need a lot more of that in our world. My mom was always trying to push that throughout my life.”
Newland also discovered how the game of baseball can show people how to come back from adversity and even the seemingly impossible.
“No matter how far down you may be, baseball reminds us that you’re never too far down to stage a rally,” Newland said.
She never thought she would ever write a book, but her journey prepared her to make herself vulnerable through the written word. Newland put her thoughts out in the world in her memoir “A Season With Mom: Love, Loss, and the Ultimate Baseball Adventure” (Harper Horizon). The book will be released on April 6; her mother would have turned 80 on that day.
Newland hopes her memoir inspires those who have a loved one who is battling cancer, shows people that there is life past hardships, and that if anything, adversity gives perspective and meaning to life.
She hopes that in tumultuous times, the story brings joy to readers, inspires them to chase their dreams no matter how long it takes to start, and causes them to reflect on their relationships with their loved ones.
“A lot of the book is about the things I wished I had said to my mom in many ways. Wouldn’t it be amazing if in life, we said all the things we wanted to say?”