Pete Frates: Making a Difference in Fight Against ALS

pete frates

Photo courtesy BC Athletics

Game three, April 14, 2007 College Park, Maryland. It’s the fifth inning, the University of Maryland Terrapins are hosting Boston College for a three game set. After jumping out to an early 7-1 lead, the Eagles are trying to damage control a feverish comeback attempt by the Terps.

With the bases loaded, BC senior outfielder Pete Frates – who had contributed to that early lead with an RBI double – sets up in the batter’s box. The blink of an eye, a swing and a resounding crack of the bat, a fleeting moment of silence in anticipation, and suddenly an eruption of ebullient cheer fills the visiting Eagle dugout, as Frates grand slam touches down somewhere out beyond the wall.

Five RBIs, a four-bagger and a run scoring double, something any baseball player at any level could hang their hat on, pretty good for a day’s work, a player could even be tempted to mail in the rest of the day. However, Frates doesn’t, and will never, give up fighting whether he’s winning or losing.


Photo courtesy BC Athletics

One inning later, another Shipley Field event staff member scurry’s to pick up the ball beyond the outfield wall, which Frates had just sent over, this time, a three-run home run ending his day 4-for-6 at the plate, along with eight RBIs—a modern BC record during their 18-6 victory over Maryland.
During Frates’ junior year, he registered a 4-for-4 performance with a home run, a double and three RBIs in the Eagles’ 10-2 victory against Harvard during the Beanpot Championship at Fenway Park.

That’s the kind of man Frates is. Never stops fighting until the game is won, and wins the game in larger than life fashion, the “Game,” symbolizing whatever adversity or obstacle, which rises up to challenge him in his trek through life.

“That’s Pete in a nutshell,” Frates father John told College Baseball Central. “Pete told me he just felt locked in that day. I remember we all met for dinner that night at Joes Crab Shack, we looked up and Pete was on ESPN, they showed his highlights. We saw 95 percent of Pete’s games, I remember that day vividly. That was the defining game of his life as well as career.”


Photo courtesy BC Athletics

Currently Frates is involved in another fight, however, this time he is not engaged in a struggle on the diamond to keep another team from scoring runs and making a comeback. This time he is involved in the fight of his life, literally for his life.

In March of 2012 Frates was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
ALS is a malady that disturbs nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The effects of which impedes the capability of the brain to start and regulate muscle movement. Without the ability to perform voluntary muscle action, the body can become induced into total paralysis after a length of time.

Originating from the Greek dialect, the ALS acronym breaks down as follows. “A” stands for no or negative. “Myo” denotes the muscle, where as “Trophic” pertains to nourishment, or, “No muscle nourishment,” muscles that do not receive nourishment, “atrophy” or degenerate. “Lateral” pinpoints the regions in an individual’s spinal cord where the nerve cells that act as indicators to muscle control are found. When this region withers, scarring or hardening (“sclerosis”) occurs.

This is what Frates is up against. However, you could flip that around because of Frates fighting will and determination, and say ALS is up against him.
“He is the most determined and stubborn guy,” John added. “He willed himself to be better at baseball, and it’s been a challenge for me during this because he won’t take any shortcuts in fighting this disease. His inner-strength and sheer will is astounding.”

With unparalleled determination, Frates has been the tip of the spear in a campaign that has raised money on an astronomical scale to raise awareness and find a cure for ALS.

If you have heard of the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” a world-wide viral social media sensation, then – whether you know it or not — you have already ascertained a portion of Frates story. Together with his friend Pat Quinn, a 31-year-old ALS patient living in Queens, N.Y., the inspiration for the Ice Bucket Challenge was created and set into motion, becoming a global fixation, and is now synonymous with the fight to cure ALS.

“If it wasn’t for the sports world embracing this, there would be no Ice Bucket Challenge,” John added. “None of this stuff would happen without sports.”

Thanks to these efforts; the ALS Association has received $115 million in contributions. Combine this total with the aid received from a myriad of additional ALS charities, and the total money raised is over $200 million. According to PR Week, those numbers represent a 3,500% increase in donations year-on-year. 2.5 million people have taken a part in the crusade. Celebrities, athletes, musicians, prominent business figures, the list goes on and on. When the Ice Bucket Challenge, or donation to an ALS charity was done, or mutually, contributors gave a new group 24 hours to accomplish the deed.

One could only hope in their most imaginative dreams, to have even the slightest shred of courage Frates has displayed in this battle. His inspiration is insurmountable, so much that in 2014 Sports Illustrated entitled him their “Inspiration of the Year” together with fellow advocate and patient Steve Gleason, a past NFL player.

More recently, because of his influence in leveraging social media users around the world to take the Ice Bucket Challenge, he has received PR Week’s 2015 Communicator of the Year award as announced March. 20, by the publication.

“We just followed his lead through all of this,” John explained. “Pete knew when we were sitting in the doctor’s office about to hear the news; like it was a movie he had seen a hundred times, what the diagnosis was going to be. He did his own research, and told us we are going to strap this on and get after it. He said this was an opportunity to change the world.”

Boston College head coach Mike Gambino has played a prevalent role in Frates fight. Gambino met him when he was an assistant coach and Frates was a player at BC. The two became close during that time and have remained tight ever since.

“We stayed close after I left Boston College to go scout, for a bunch of reasons,” Gambino stated.

Operating as the man behind the scenes, it may be Gambino that has been the driver of “Team Frate Train,” the composite of Frates family that have banded together to start “The Pete Frates #3 Fund.” The fund aids with Pete’s medical attention and expenditures, as well as supports him as he continues on his quest for finding a cure for ALS.

Gambino called Frates and his family into his office one afternoon, and not only offered Frates the Director of Operations job for the Eagle baseball team, but told them “This is how it’s going to happen,” according to Pete’s father John. “Gambino has been the driving force. He is the unsung MVP in my mind.”

Remarkably, this is not the first time Boston College as a university has dealt with the devastating disease ALS. Longtime Boston College sports information director Dick Kelley – who graduated from the prestigious school and was hired to the sports information department in 1991 – passed away on Feb. 13, 2014 after a near three-year bout with ALS. The Andover, Mass., native was honored in 2013 by being given the United States Basketball Writers Association’s (USBWA) Most Courageous Award.

Since its inception in 2012, BC has held an annual ALS Awareness Game. Each year record crowds assemble and essential funds are raised to help find a cure for ALS. This year’s game is scheduled for April 18, and given the amount of support that has been shown every year, the Eagles are certain another stellar show of support is on its way.

Frates reached his 3-year diagnosis anniversary on March 13, and continues his fight with the same resolve as he did from day one. Team Frate Train continues to advocate for a cure to benefit the Pete Frates #3 Fund, and you too can help.

For more information on how you can donate to Frates cause, you can visit his website at Advocate for a cure.

About the Author

Matthew Gray
Matthew Gray is a national writer for College Baseball Central and a member of the National College Baseball Hall of Fame, granting him an official vote annually on which coaches and players will be inducted. Matthew is also a member of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, which gives him official votes in the Dick Howser Trophy (Player of the Year), Regional Players of the Year and NCBWA All-America voting. Matthew is college baseball's go to source for exclusive player, coach, scout and executive interview based articles. He is at the forefront of prospect knowledge in the nation, and owns a strong managerial and professional background which includes over 25 years of experience as an author, scout, coach and athlete. Matthew has two daughters, Shelby, and Michelle. Follow Matthew on Twitter @CBCBaseball95