It happened on Mother’s Day 2010. The words have become an indelible part of the Oakland Athletics’ narrative, repeated every time the team’s greatest hits — and pitches — are replayed in the memory:
“Taken there, Pennington’s got it … he throws … a perfect game. Dallas Braden has thrown a perfect game! The kid from Stockton has done it for the A’s!”
That’s how Henderson’s Ken Korach called Dallas Braden’s perfect game — the 19th in baseball’s storied history at the time — from the broadcast booth. After shortstop Cliff Pennington tossed to first to secure Braden’s place in history, Korach went silent, letting the reaction of the crowd tell the story as a jubilant scene unfolded down on the playing field.
During the eighth inning, he had told listeners about Braden having lost his mother to cancer nine years before he began mesmerizing the Tampa Bay Rays with his pitches. He had never discussed Mother’s Day with Braden, how it must have been a bittersweet memory. But he knew it had to be.
He knew, because Korach had lost his own mother when he wasn’t all that much older than Braden when the pitcher’s mom died.
Frances Korach took her own life in 1973, when her son was starting his third year at San Diego State.
About 30 seconds after Pennington threw out Gabe Kapler at first base, Peggy Lindsey, Braden’s grandmother and the guiding light of his life after his mother died, was escorted onto the field at Oakland Coliseum.
She embraced her grandson.
“It was the closest I’ve ever come to losing it on the air,” Korach said.
When he and Susan Slusser, the A’s beat reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, decided they would co-author a book about covering the team, Korach knew he would write about Mother’s Day 2010. He just did not know how much he would write.
The book is called “If These Walls Could Talk — Stories from the Oakland A’s Dugout, Locker Room and Press Box,” and it turned out Ken Korach would write it all.
“I wanted to write about my mom, but felt the only way to do it would be to have the Braden perfect game frame the chapter,” Korach, 67, said this week. “Susan was very encouraging, as was Dan Brown, our editor. I heard from a couple of people who read the chapter with some initial trepidation — thinking it was a baseball book, and now they were reading about suicide. But they expressed that it worked because of how the perfect game was woven into it.
“Dallas read the chapter in early draft form, and it touched him emotionally. It was validation for me that he was moved by it.”
Simon and Frances Korach had a loving marriage. But Frances’ relationship with her mother was complicated, Ken Korach said. When his mom was 10, she was sent to live with grandparents.
Writes her son in the book: “Instead of living in a nice home in a good neighborhood, my mom had been sent to a crowded home in a tough part of town away from her friends. My mom felt discarded and isolated.”
She would become the first member of her large family to graduate from college. She was Phi Beta Kappa at UCLA, a source of pride for the family. She would become a social worker at Orthopaedic Hospital in downtown Los Angeles, counseling terminally ill children and their parents.
It was a difficult job fraught with emotion that became a burden.
Ken Korach said his parents loved to dance and play tennis before his mom was diagnosed with spondylosis, a condition caused by stress fractures of the back and spine. Surgery was unsuccessful, the pain became unbearable, she became depressed. It was all she could do to attend her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary party, Korach said of his mother.
“A short time later she was gone.”
Frances Korach, alone and in pain, swallowed some pills. When Ken’s dad returned home, he found her at the bottom of the swimming pool.
She left a note, but it didn’t say much.
Clearing the bases
Having started his 24th season as an A’s broadcaster, Korach said writing the book has been cathartic. It opened the door for him and his father, who remarried and recently turned 100, to talk in earnest about his mom — how she lived and loved, how she died. And how he almost lost it on the air when Dallas Braden threw that perfect game.
“The memory of seeing Braden hug his grandmother on Mother’s Day still brings emotion to the surface for me,” he writes.
“It’s been a long process to allow those feelings to come to the surface, and now I think it’s healthy to concede there have been some rough patches. I really miss my mom, and I probably miss her now more than ever. That doesn’t mean I didn’t miss her before — it’s just that I’m more in touch with it now.”
The book has been out for about six weeks. He offered a postscript Tuesday.
“I was hoping that by writing the chapter in some small way I could help make a difference,” Korach said. “Suicide, depression, awareness, etc. I’ve heard from people who read it and had a similar experience with a parent or loved one or could relate in some way, and that’s been very gratifying.
“Any time you can talk about something like that — it’s a really important thing. That’s why I wrote the book, to be honest.”
Ken Korach was speaking from the Oakland suburbs. In a few hours, a 33-year-old journeyman named Mike Fiers would take the pitcher’s mound for the A’s and throw another no-hitter.