Anthony Bemboom was a senior at Creighton Univesity and the catcher for the Bluejays in 2012. He mentioned in conversation with his parents, Debbie and Greg, who were back home in Sauk Rapids, that he was dating a young woman from Omaha named Amy Spilker.
And, oh, Amy happened to be the reigning Miss Nebraska USA.
The Bembooms made a point to tune in to watch the Miss USA pageant for 2012 when it was held on June 3 in Las Vegas. “We wanted to make sure Anthony wasn’t imagining this young lady,” said Debbie Bemboom by phone on Sunday, and then added a wonderful laugh.
Three days after the pageant, the major league draft was concluding and Anthony was taken in the 22nd round by the Angels, the 687th player chosen — a long shot for sure, but also a chance to play pro ball.
“That was about the happiest day of Anthony’s life, and I hated to spoil it,” Debbie said. “I had no choice, though. The word was getting out on my diagnosis. I didn’t want Anthony to hear it from anyone other than me.”
The medical news that came on the same morning that Anthony was selected in the draft was that Debbie Bemboom had breast cancer and that treatment would be starting.
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Nearly seven years later, Amy Spilker — actually Bemboom, since last November — and her in-laws, Debbie and Greg, and her sister-in-law, Bailey, were at Tropicana Field on Sunday to watch the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays. Anthony would be catching, batting ninth and making his major league debut.
The Bembooms received a call from Anthony late on Thursday night that he had been called up and would be with the Rays starting on Friday. This was his eighth season in the minors, primarily as the backup catcher retained for his receiving excellence, and finally he was going to the big leagues.
“There were tears … joyous tears,” Debbie said.
Debbie, Greg and Bailey flew from Minneapolis-St. Paul. Amy flew from Durham, N.C., where she had been with her husband as he played for the Bulls, the Rays’ Class AAA affiliate.
Anthony did not play on Friday or Saturday. John Romano, a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times, talked with the Bembooms and authored an outstanding piece in anticipation of Anthony’s debut on Sunday.
At 29 years and 4 months, he would become the oldest position player to debut in the big leagues in four years. There were more tears in the Bemboom delegation, as described by Romano:
“ ‘He’s had so many friends who have been called up, and every single time, he says I’m so happy for them,’ his wife Amy said, as tears ran down her cheek at Tropicana Field on Saturday evening.”
Greg was looking back to the 20 years that he spent playing for Sauk Rapids’ townball team, and the scores of times that Anthony came along to watch or serve as a bat boy for the Cyclones.
“We also had two great summers as teammates, before Anthony went to college,” Greg said.
On Sunday, the Bembooms heard Anthony announced in the Rays lineup, and they watched him set up behind the plate to catch Blake Snell, the Cy Young Award-winning lefty; they watched him get in the batter’s box for a first at-bat in the third — and even if it became a strikeout, that was all the emotion they would have needed.
Yet, there was also this:
It was Mother’s Day, the Sunday when many big-league players use pink bats and offer other displays of pink, in a highly visible attempt to increase breast cancer awareness, and also to celebrate survivors of breast cancer.
Debbie Bemboom is one of those.
“To have us all there together on Mother’s Day, with all that pink on the field … it’s amazing that could be the timing for Anthony’s first game,” she said.