By Noah Darling
OMAHA, NE- ACC baseball fans have seen Brock Wilken terrorize their teams for years. Now, Wilken’s power and defense are on display here, against the top teams in the country at the Men's College World Series.
Just ask Alabama, who watched Wilken break the ACC career home run record in electric fashion. Wilken entered Game 2 of the Winston-Salem Super Regional with 67 career home runs, needing three to pass Florida State and Omaha legend JD Drew on the all time list. Wilken, enroute to a 22-5 Wake Forest victory to clinch a spot in Omaha, clubbed three homers in five at-bats. Wilken described the moment as “pretty special”, “being able to do that at home, such a career milestone… it was a moment that I’ve long awaited”.
For teams that have been on the opposite end of each of Wilken’s 31 home runs this season, they’ve seen a new piece of equipment greeting them at the plate and strolling past them on another home run trot. Starting in the fall, Wilken has donned a pink sleeve, a unique piece of uniform flare for the Wake Forest third baseman.
“I’m not much of a flashy person, I never wear anything, so this is the first year I’ve actually worn something other than batting gloves and cleats”. So, why now? After all, Wilken is a projected first-round pick in the upcoming MLB draft. With 29 career homers headed into the season, the Wake Forest star had no reason to change his routine, right?
(photo by Reggie Wortman)
As Wilken tweeted the other day, some things are bigger than baseball. This off-season, Brock and his mom got a call that was anything other than routine. Brock has known his best friend Grady Maguire, and his mom Amy, since he was around 14. Grady says he and Brock became “second sons to each other’s families” over four years of playing baseball together.
When Brock and Grady were on the road for summer and fall ball, she was with them at every turn. “Spending three weeks with a person in different states, you get close with them, she’s like a mom figure, she takes care of me all the time, and she’s the best”. Amy had such an impact on Brock and other traveling teammates, she became better known as a combination of “mom” and “Amy”, “Mamy”.
So, when Brock and his mother were two of the first people Amy Maguire told when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was the first time that Brock had seen Amy down. For the first time, Brock saw the strong, always-happy woman, that he had known as a mother figure since he was 14, in a position of need and support.
Grady says Brock was determined to find a way to help and honor the strong woman that made up such a huge part of his life and baseball career. That’s just who Brock is, “he’s always been a caring guy”. It was an ad on Instagram that sparked the idea. A fully customizeable arm sleeve, a clear change for the usually subtle Wilken, but one he knew he wanted to make ahead of his junior year at Wake Forest.
Like any baseball player, Brock had to “make sure” he played well in the sleeve in intersquad games in the fall, just to break it in. It passed with flying colors. Starting Opening Day, Brock has worn the pink sleeve with “Mamy” inscribed on it for every game this season. After that first game, Brock sent her a long text and explained his plans for the season. Amy responded with a picture of her in tears, expressing the love between Brock and “Mamy”.
Brock’s support of Amy didn’t stop off the field. Brock was sure to Facetime Amy when she was undergoing surgery, even from the road. Grady says it “meant the world to her during her fight and recovery when she felt his love and support during the season”.
Wake Forest Head Coach Tom Walter says the Wake Forest team motto is "make them feel you". Wilken says this means "every person that we interact with, we have to make them feel us in whatever way. It's always in a positive and energetic way. The more we can do that, the more people we impact and leave a legacy, that means the world to us".
Through the can’t-miss pink arm sleeve, Brock has been able to spread awareness to breast cancer, and has been able to spread Amy’s story. Brock has made lasting connections with people across baseball, from umpires to professional scouts. “Relationships mean so much to me,” and Brock echoes that each time he makes another headline-grabbing play. If you’ve seen Brock this season, you’ve seen the impact of Amy Maguire.
Regarding playing in Omaha, Brock says it's "really eye opening. You don't really grasp the scope how special this moment really is until you get to step on that field." Brock isn't afraid to take Amy with him on the field, nor is he afraid to spread the special feeling to fans. Brock was seen giving a pair of cleats to a young fan after a game in Omaha, because that's the kind of guy that Brock is.
Brock is sure to take special care of the sleeve itself, it’s the only one he has. After every game, it’s folded into fourths and safely stored. It hasn’t been washed, and with the tear he’s been on this postseason, it certainly can’t be washed now. After the season ends, Brock has plans to auction off some gear, and potentially the pink sleeve itself on his website, brockwilken.com, with all proceeds going to breast cancer awareness.
Amy’s cancer is in remission right now, and while neither Amy nor Grady are in Omaha, they did have the opportunity to watch Brock play this season. Amy first saw Brock in the ACC Tournament against Notre Dame. Brock did the only thing he could do, hit a home run, of course wearing the sleeve that he has dedicated to Amy.
Brock will continue to wear the pink sleeve in the Men's College World Series in Omaha, and he has plans to continue the tradition next season, whether that be at Wake Forest or professionally. Wilken’s aunt is also fighting breast cancer, and Brock lost his grandfather to colon cancer. Wilken envisions a future of honoring Mamy, his aunt, and grandpa with his gear, with some sort of combination of blue, the color for colon cancer awareness, and pink, while still remaining the humble and laid-back star that America has gotten to know this offseason.