By Ben Waldman
When Ryerson pitcher Luke Bellus took off his hat during the Canadian national anthem, it looked like his head was covered not by hair, but by freshly made cotton candy: fluffy, eye-grabbing and pink.
The colour was everywhere on Saturday. Hot pink arm sleeves, ribbons and sweatbands adorned the Rams players, and a lone pink umbrella sat unopened in the stands, awaiting the rain as the grey sky steadily darkened over Stan Wadlow Park.
It was the Ryerson baseball team’s inaugural Think Pink game, designed to raise awareness about breast cancer.
“Truth be told, I sometimes wish I was oblivious to cancer,” Bellus said before the game started. “If I was, it would have had no effect on my life and I would have two very important people still with me. But that’s not the case. It’s the world we live in.”
Bellus, now in his second year with the team, lost his aunt Paula to breast cancer in 2009. She was 49. Then, a close friend’s mother died earlier this year.
“That one really struck a chord with him,” Bellus’s dad Steve recalled. “That’s probably why he was so passionate about this game.”
Along with teammate Kevin MacDonald, Bellus spearheaded the team’s Think Pink project, aiming to raise $500 for breast cancer research. MacDonald also lost an aunt to breast cancer, so he dyed his hair pink too.
A third-year pitcher, MacDonald told his classmates that if they filled a Ryerson fan bus and came to watch the team play Brock University, he’d dye his hair. When the bus filled up, he was happy to oblige.
The short-term goal of this project is to raise money, but Bellus said the ultimate objective is to make games like this one unnecessary by finding a cure.
“It’s a lofty goal,” he said. “But I think we’ll do it one day.”
Bellus’s vision for the game was to make it a symbol of unity against a common enemy.
For once, players and umpires were on the same page, as the umps arrived to the game sporting bright pink polo shirts that barely contained the massive shoulder pads beneath them.
Falco Schieda, an umpire in Toronto for 19 seasons, is a colon cancer survivor. He has been cancer-free for eight years. His wife was diagnosed with breast cancer last year but is now in remission.
“I beat it, and she beat it,” he said with pride in his voice and relief in his eyes.
So when the national anthem blared over the sound system and the players stood wearing their pink arm sleeves, ribbons and sweatbands, the umpires stood proudly with them.
After the players returned to the dugout, the Rams starters took the field. Painted behind the pitcher’s mound was a pink breast cancer awareness ribbon. Starting pitcher Quinn Cumming took his place on the mound and fired his first pitch at Brock’s leadoff hitter.
But moments later, the rain began, quickly drenching the diamond. After four pitches, the game was called off.
The pink umbrella in the stands was opened, a tarp got thrown over home plate and the fans left the stands to seek shelter.
But the rain failed to wash away the painted ribbon behind the mound, and the pink in Bellus and MacDonald’s soaking wet hair was as vibrant as it was during the anthem.
“Just having this pink hair,” Bellus said, running his fingers through it. “It’s a way to carry two people that I hold very near and dear to my heart.”
Though the game was rained out, the team hopes to reschedule Think Pink to a later date. Even during the downpour, a few smiling, pink-clad Rams stayed on the field to play catch.
Against the grim, grey sky, through the pouring rain, the cotton candy pink endured.