(This is the full-length, but slightly different, version of a piece that ran April 15): When Katie Russell Newland threw out the first pitch at Chicago’s Wrigley Field in September 2015, it closed a remarkable odyssey of visiting all 30 Major League Baseball parks in one summer. Now, with a little help from a guy named Peyton Manning, Newland recounts her adventure in a monumentally charming new book.

Newland and her mother, Anne Russell, shared a massive love for baseball. As New Orleanians, they had no local MLB team, so they adopted Chicago’s Cubs, who were on TV daily on the WGN cable feed. Once they traveled to Chicago for a game, and Anne blurted out that they should make a point to visit every MLB park at some point. Alas, they never did: Anne died of cancer at age 68 in 2009. Three years later, Katie too was diagnosed with cancer — but she beat it.

Given a second lease on life, she decided to honor her mother by embarking on the quest not just in a lifetime, but in a single season. And as word spread about her project, media outlets began taking note, culminating in a national interview on ESPN after the Cubs invited her to finish her journey with the ultimate on-field experience.

Still, Katie didn’t think her mission was complete. So, she wrote a book about it in the form of a series of letters to Anne, recounting the ballpark visits amid reflections on her memories of her unforgettable mother. A Season with Mom was published on April 6, on what would have been Anne’s 80th birthday, and the next day, it launched with a (virtual) book signing at the Garden District Book Shop, about three blocks from where Katie grew up. On the videoconference were her friends, her siblings, and the friends of her mother and siblings, in a sort of old-home week atmosphere.

“You were always spontaneous, a free spirit,” Katie wrote to her mother. “I, on the other hand, have always been cautious and measured. … But jumping into the adventure … I followed your lead.”

Football Hall of Famer Manning grew up across the street from the Russells and was Katie’s high-school classmate. He volunteered to write the Foreword. If you read this book, he wrote, “you’re going to get inspired. Maybe you’ve been putting your own dreams on hold…. [but] after reading this book, you’ll be eager to imagine your own amazing next season.”

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[Version as published online and in the Washington Examiner weekly magazine — to which I urge all of you to subscribe!]


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