Pirates hold ceremony for Honorary Bat Girl

Pirates hold ceremony for Honorary Bat Girl

PITTSBURGH -- When Maria Heddleston found out she was going to be honored by the Pirates for her perseverance through breast cancer, her 7-year-old son John didn't give his mother any congratulations.

"He said, 'Do I get to meet Andrew McCutchen?" Heddleston recalled, laughing.

The Pirates held a pregame ceremony on Saturday for Heddleston, their winner of MLB's Honorary Bat Girl Contest. The league honors one winner to represent each of its teams, and "recognizes baseball fans who have been affected by breast cancer and demonstrate a commitment to eradicating the disease." The winners are usually honored on Mother's Day, but since the Pirates were in New York, they found a date that worked for both parties.

John threw out the first pitch in place of his mother, because she said it would mean more to him. He even skipped his Little League game to attend Saturday's contest against the Astros.

"I can't even put all this into words," Heddleston said from just outside the Pirates' dugout before first pitch Saturday.

Heddleston, a Munhall, Pa., resident, has been battling Stage 4 breast cancer since 2011, but said she wouldn't let it change her life. She continues to teach at Park Elementary School in the Steel Valley School District while undergoing chemotherapy treatment once every three weeks.

McCutchen was part of the selection committee that helped determine the winners after fans submitted nominees and the reasons why they should represent their favorite team. Heddleston grew up in the area as a lifelong Pirates fan.

The winners were also based on fan votes, and Heddleston said she had thousands of supporters from all over the country, some she didn't know, helping her cause.

"I have a great network of friends," she said. "That's where I get all my inspiration from."

McCutchen said it was a cause close to his heart because he's had family members affected by cancer.

"Maria is definitely a huge fighter for what she's done and what she's overcome and through what she continues to do," McCutchen said. "It's great that she gets the opportunity to be here, and I'm just honored that I get to represent her."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.