We often refer to baseball players as heroes for the special gifts they bring to the field and the incredible feats that wow us on the sport’s biggest stage.
But over the last few weeks, we are quickly learning who the true heroes are in our society in this fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
They include the hospital workers who heal us and the grocery workers who help to feed us.
These selfless individuals have a special place in the heart of White Sox pitcher Steve Cishek.
They’re members of his own family.
There’s his mom Susie, who works as an X-ray technician at Falmouth Hospital in Massachusetts five to six days a week.
“I’m proud of my mom and the work she’s doing there, but at the same time I’m thinking about her every day,” Cishek said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. “The thing I worry about with her is she has pretty bad asthma, so (COVID-19) being a respiratory illness, it’s a little bit alarming if she were to get it.”
Cishek says she doesn’t work on the floor designated for COVID-19 patients. “But she’s just as exposed as anyone else going in there,” said Cishek, who posted a photo of his mom showing the extra protective clothing she must wear at all times, including gloves, a mask and face shield.
And there's more that adds to Cishek’s concerns. When his mom’s work day is over, she goes home, immediately puts her clothes in the washing machine, cleans up and goes to take care of her mother.
“She’s also around my grandmother quite a bit, and we don’t want our grandmother to get sick. So we think about them a lot. We’re praying for them both,” said Cishek, whose grandmother worked in the linens department at a hospital for more than 40 years. “It hits home a little bit more. It gets a lot more serious when you’re seeing your family on the front lines, essentially.”
Cishek’s cousin has been up close with the virus. She works in the emergency room at the Jupiter Medical Center around 85 miles north of Miami.
“Thankfully, things have calmed down there quite a bit,” Cishek said of his cousin's hospital. “She hasn’t been asked to come in to work all that much because it’s been really slowing down, so that’s encouraging. She’s a brave soul.”
Meanwhile, his uncle works as a produce manager at Stop & Shop grocery store in Falmouth.
“He’s almost as affected as my mom is at the hospital because he’s around these people all day, he’s putting out all this produce. Who knows what he’s walking into?” Cishek explained. “He survived a small bout of cancer a few years ago. Obviously, his immune system isn’t the strongest, so we think about him, as well, too.”
Not to mention Cishek’s dad is a diabetic.
Taking the mound in the major leagues takes talent, but it also takes guts, hard work and dealing with pressure. They all come with the job. They are traits Cishek might have gotten from his mom.
“She doesn’t panic at all,” he said. “She’s one of the most selfless people I’ve met. My mom has worked fingers to the bone her whole life. That’s the way my grandmother was. My mom was born in Portugal, came over with my grandfather and grandmother when she was 7.”
The pandemic has been a major disruption for everyone, no matter what you do for a living. It threw Cishek a curveball while he was training in Glendale, Arizona.
“At first, I was having a little bit of a hard time with it, especially when I was in Arizona,” said Cishek, who originally was planning on staying in the Phoenix area with his family while working out at the White Sox spring training facility. “Then literally like the next day, everything just flipped over. (We were) told, 'You guys should probably consider going home. We’re only going to be allowed to have this many people at the facility. We have no idea how long this is going to be.'”
Without a playbook telling him how to safely get his family from Phoenix to their home in Jupiter, Florida, during a pandemic, Cishek improvised a plan.
“If we leave first thing in the morning on a Southwest flight, that’s the cleanest the plane is going to be. They sterilize it like crazy. Let’s just wear it, get up early in the morning, get on the plane and get home and just weather the storm in the comfort of our own home,” he explained.
“They were tough decisions to make, but at the end of the day, we felt like we did the right thing.”
Since arriving back in Florida, Cishek has been busy training in his backyard, prepping for a baseball season that might or might not come.
“This spring was the best I’ve felt in years,” he said. “Everything was clicking. I felt great.
“I’ve backed off a bit. Obviously, I’m not facing hitters. I’ve kept my arm in shape. If we get word that spring training is on the horizon, then I’m going to start ramping back up.”
We all want baseball to return, at the very least to just give us back some normalcy. There are moments during the day, even if only flashes, when things do feel like they used to. Cishek said his mom even experiences that when she’s driving to work.
“It’s like just another day of work, but then when she walks in the doors it’s like, 'Oh yeah, this is going on,'” Cishek said. “It’s hard for her and hard for a lot of us to wrap our heads around. It’s just so surreal. That’s the best way to describe it.”
Fortunately, it seems there might be some good news in this corner of Massachusetts.
“She can’t disclose a lot of that stuff, but what she did tell me it’s actually quieting down. It hasn’t been as bad as she would have expected. I’m thankful for that. The quieter these hospitals get the better because our loved ones out there aren’t getting exposed, and it means all the self-quarantining seems to be working, so there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
And we can thank everyone on the front lines — the real heroes in this fight — for shining their own lights and being there for all of us.
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