MLB pitcher wears stirrup socks so legally blind mom can see him on the field

by Lisa Flam /  / Updated  / Source: TODAY Contributor

Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter

A rookie pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, J.R. Graham likes to stand out on the field, but not for the reasons you might think. He tweaks his uniform by hiking his pants to the knee and wearing old-school stirrups, an uncommon look intended to help his legally blind mom spot him.

MLB pitcher J.R. Graham wears dark stirrup socks for his mom
One of these is not like the others: MLB pitcher J.R. Graham wears dark stirrup socks so his mom, who is legally blind, can see him on the field.Brace Hemmelgarn

It’s something he’s been doing for years for the woman who attended countless games during T-ball and Little League, through high school and college, and in the minors.

“She’s been there for every game,” says the 25-year-old right-handed reliever from Livermore, California. “She’s been my biggest fan. I feel like there’s a little something I can do to help her see her baby out on the field.”

“Being able to be a part of this part of his life and him making it a little easier for me to get to see him on that bigger stage is precious to me,” proud mama Julie Graham says of her son, Minnesota Twins pitcher J.R. Graham.
“Being able to be a part of this part of his life and him making it a little easier for me to get to see him on that bigger stage is precious to me,” proud mama Julie Graham says of her son, Minnesota Twins pitcher J.R. Graham.Courtesy Julie Graham

For Julie Graham, seeing her son as he reached baseball’s highest level was in a word, “awesome.”

“You’re just so proud for them to get to realize their dream, and it’s a very surreal moment,” she told TODAY, her voice choked with emotion. “The fact that I could see him out there, it just makes it even that much better,” she added.

MLB pitcher J.R. Graham wears black stirrup socks for his mom
For pitcher J.R. Graham, his major league debut this month was the culmination of years of hard work and practice, and his mom has been one of his biggest supporters since his Little League days.Brace Hemmelgarn

It meant the world to J.R. too, knowing his mother was in the stands during his inaugural outing with the Twins in Detroit on April 6 and again for the home opener in Minneapolis a week later. Though a few teammates have razzed him for his look and told him to wear his pants down like the rest of the team, it doesn’t bother him a bit.

“It brings a lot of joy to know that right when I stand up she can spot me,” J.R. says.

Julie Graham, 47, has been visually impaired since childhood when she was diagnosed with Best Disease, a rare condition that causes the loss of central vision. She became legally blind as a young adult, and with 20/400 vision, she can see better with the help of high contrast, good lighting and magnifiers.

In this photo taken by Julie Graham, her son J.R.'s dark stirrup socks help her spot him on the field.
In this photo taken by Julie Graham, her son J.R.'s dark stirrup socks help her spot him on the field.Courtesy Julie Graham

When J.R. was about 9, his father suggested he buy white baseball cleats because all of his teammates wore black ones. J.R. says his dad liked the look of the white, and thought it might help his mom see him.

“Once I went out there and played, she made a comment like, ‘Hey, this helps me see you better,’” J.R. says. It was something he never forgot.

He started wearing the pull-on stirrups over his socks when he was about 12 or 13, and the look took hold as he rose through the ranks. Now with the Twins, the navy blue stirrups with a patch of white sock peeking out distinguish him in the lineup.

Biggest fan: MLB pitcher J.R. Graham with his mom, Julie.
Biggest fan: MLB pitcher J.R. Graham with his mom, Julie.Courtesy Julie Graham

“Whether he comes out to stand with his teammates or goes out for the national anthem or is playing catch in the outfield, any time he’s out there, except for when they announce him, it gives me something to cue in on and I can spot him right away,” Julie says, pleased that she doesn’t have to rely on her husband to point J.R. out to her. “I can pick up the binoculars and see what he’s doing.”

It wasn’t until J.R. was at Santa Clara University, Julie says, that she learned from one of her son’s friends that he was making an intentional effort to stand out for her. “He was surprised I didn’t know he did that for me,” she said. “He said, ‘Of course.’”

MLB pitcher J.R. Graham wears black stirrup socks for his mom
MLB pitcher J.R. Graham pitched two shutout innings in his Major League debut earlier this month, and mom Julie got to see it all thanks to the high-contrast socks he wears.Brace Hemmelgarn

It’s a typical gesture for the tight-knit Graham family. J.R., his younger sister, Brianna, and their dad, Brian, often lend a hand, driving Julie to appointments, reading movie subtitles aloud and guiding her across the street.

“We’re all trying to do something to make it a little bit easier for her,” J.R. says.

Thanks, Mom: Pitcher J.R. Graham hugs his mom Julie.
Thanks, Mom: Pitcher J.R. Graham hugs his mom Julie.Courtesy Julie Graham

Julie said it was especially gratifying to know that she was on her son’s mind, even at the biggest moment of his career.

“When you learn that they really are thinking of you, it just melts your heart,” she says.

“It’s just one of those parenting moments that you cherish, that they’re thinking of you, that they love you and they’re there for you,” Julie adds. “It’s just really comforting to know they love and appreciate you.”

For TODAY's complete Mother's Day Guide, click here!

Lisa A. Flam, a regular contributor to TODAY.com, is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.

Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
MORE FROM today