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By Neil Becker
Mother’s Day has always held a special meaning for current Major League Baseball third baseman Josh Donaldson.
Donaldson, who is affectionately known as ‘Bringer of Rain,’ was born into a broken home on December 8, 1985, in Pensacola, Florida.
Growing up, Donaldson had an incredibly close bond with his mother, Lisa French, as he was raised in a single-parent household. Unfortunately, it was far from a normal upbringing for Donaldson. His father, Levon Donaldson, was jailed for 15 years due to an assortment of crimes, including sexual battery, false imprisonment, drug offensives and spousal abuse.
Josh’s mother, Lisa French, who was divorced from Levon Donaldson, showed a great work ethic by working many days and nights at the family bar to make sure Josh was always well provided for.
Throughout the dark years of struggling financially, French’s main objective was providing a loving and stable upbringing for Josh.
“The one positive that came out of this situation is my mom and I became inseparable, really,” Donaldson told the Toronto Star. He also stated, “We both kind of lived for one another.”
No child should witness his angry father violently attacking his mother or having to visit his father in a Florida jail.
According to the article, Donaldson’s relationship with his mom was described as being extremely close and loving. French was determined to give her son a normal life full of love and opportunities.
Despite the economic hardships, French managed to enroll Donaldson into sports at an early age. Her brother also helped out by spending time with young Josh, introducing him to baseball at age 4, and serving as a mentor.
Growing up, Donaldson’s mom always made sure that her son received a quality education. During his tenure at high school, Donaldson went to Pace high school, located in Pace, Florida. During his school years, he competed and got noticed for his strengths in football, basketball and baseball. One of his many school sports highlights came after his mom transferred him to Faith Academy. Excelling as a pitcher and shortstop, Donaldson’s feats, which included an unheard of .515 batting average, didn’t go unnoticed as he was named the Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year.
Eventually, Donaldson would star on the ball field at Auburn University, before being selected in the 2007 MLB draft by the Chicago Cubs. Three years later, he would fulfill that ultimate dream when he made his MLB debut as a catcher with the Oakland A’s. Donaldson, who would eventually switch to a third baseman, would play four years with the A’s until getting traded on November 28, 2014, in a packaged deal to the Toronto Blue Jays.
During his first year with the Jays, Donaldson could do no wrong. He batted .297 and belted 41 home runs and 123 RBI’s in capturing various accolades such as the 2015 MLB Player of the Year Award, American League Hank Aaron Award and Silver Slugger Award.
Donaldson, who played for the Blue Jays from 2015 until being traded in August 2018 to the Cleveland Indians, created several great memories such as the post-season runs, individual awards and of course, the thrill of what happened on April 24, 2016, at Rogers Centre.
On this day, prior to the Jays 6-3 win against the Oakland Athletics, Donaldson and his mom got to live out the ultimate fantasy as she tossed the ceremonial first pitch to her son on what was coincidently enough Josh Donaldson bobblehead day.
“It’s really unbelievable when you think about it, to see him go through what he went through and work hard the way he did. It’s so special as a mom to see him live out the dreams that he worked for every day. I could not ask for anything better, and to top it all off, they’re winning the game,” French told Alykhan Ravjiani for MLB.com.
No doubt, this was a special moment for the two, who were warming up playing catch before the game. French, who received notice about a week prior to throwing out the ceremonial pitch, admitted that she went to her brother’s house and practiced by throwing about 100 pitches. This was the same uncle who was a mentor and worked on Josh’s baseball skills starting when he was first introduced at the tender age of 4 years old.
In a touching moment, after the ceremonial pitch, the two engaged in a long hug, and later on, Donaldson had some strong praise for his mom, who he refers to as his “rock” and “best friend.”
“I know how proud she is of me,” Donaldson said in the MLB.com article. “Before the game, I could see how happy she was. It was a neat moment, and it’s tough because you want to be dialed in before the game, but it’s a special moment for me, a special moment for her and I won’t forget it. We have a great relationship. To be able to share that, that’s a memory that will last a lifetime.” On this same afternoon, prior to the first pitch, Donaldson was presented with his American League Silver Slugger Award, Players Choice Awards, along with AL Outstanding Player Award.
As a youngster, when Donaldson was refining his baseball skills with French’s brother, Chuck Pyritz, French always made sure that he came back inside the house for dinner and to focus on his studies.
French also went on to state in the article,
“Every day to me, when I’m with him, is Mother’s Day. There’s a lot of special moments between us that have carried throughout time, and they don’t necessarily fall on that specific day. He’ll do things for me like send me flowers or call me unexpectedly, and it will always remind me, that’s my little boy.”
A few years later, in December 2019, that strong love between son and mother was on display when Donaldson, who at this time was a free agent third baseman, fulfilled a deal with his mom when he gave her a Maserati after she successfully quit smoking.
On his Instagram account, Donaldson had a video of his mom’s joyous reaction with a little message which read,
“So my mom made a deal with me, if she quit smoking, that I would buy her a Maserati. Two years of not smoking, and here is her early Christmas present from Briana and I. Trust me, you are going to want to watch this.”
Lisa French might not have played professional sports, and she is not a famous household name. Still, she is an extremely strong person, who is a heroine in the fact that she made sure her son received a great upbringing while stressing education and making sure he had a male mentor in her brother. She also made sure that he had the chance to play sports and experience a quality upbringing despite seeing up close domestic violence. It’s crystal clear that these two have a very close and loving relationship.