Watching a game inside each of Major League Baseball’s 30 stadiums this season is a Texas woman with a very special story on a poignant mission.
Katie Russell, 38, of Austin, is traveling to every ballpark as a tribute to her mother, Anne Russell, who died from colon cancer in 2009. Russell and her mom had made it to 10 of the ballparks before she died.
“We watched a heck of a lot of Cubs games together and I played a lot of softball and she certainly did not miss a single game of mine throughout my playing days,” Russell told ABC News. “I don’t know where her love of baseball came from, which is part of the reason why I’m doing this.”
Russell was inspired to make the self-funded journey last October after she attended the Houston stop of Oprah Winfrey’s “Life You Want Tour." The single teacher was nearing completion of her Ph.D., and was celebrating two years of being cancer-free at the time.
Three years after her mom died, in 2012, Russell says she was diagnosed with both Hodgkins lymphoma and melanoma. She underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy and 17 days of radiation treatment before being declared cancer-free.
“The inspiration came through attending the Oprah tour and realizing it was actually a possibility,” Russell said of her 30-ballpark tour. "I had completed treatments and was completing my Ph.D. and had the time and space to reflect on what was finally available.”
She will end it on Sept. 22, 2015, by not just watching the team she and her mom loved – the Chicago Cubs – but by throwing out the first pitch at the game.
“I’m not even on Facebook but the Cubs saw it through a friend who posted an article about me,” Russell said. "It’s amazing how social media can impact you when you’re not even on it.”
Russell, one of six children, stays with friends and family where she can and mostly flies to each city. While at the games, she stays until the very last pitch is thrown and relishes in taking in the atmosphere of each stadium, posting photos and memories on her website, MLB for Mom.
“Being surrounded by the fans and the feeling of partaking in a baseball game regardless of the city, that could be the best part of it all,” she said. “I learn something new about myself or life in general at every ballpark I go to.”
Russell, a New Orleans native, has plans to go back to teaching next Spring. In the meantime, she says she is considering how to use all the attention her emotional baseball tour has unexpectedly brought her.
“This was intended to be an introspective of my life and my relationship with my mom,” Russell said. “It really has amazed me with how much it’s resonated with people.”
“I’ve gotten a lot of feedback about people wanting me to write a book so I would definitely consider that,” Russell, who is currently working on a non-related children’s book added. “One of the things my mom and dad have always taught me is you should always think of others so I’ve definitely been trying to figure out a way to do that and the best way."