First Person: Frates fights back
Before Friday’s baseball game against Boston College, I made my way down to the home dugout to chat with the Tar Heel assistant coaches. A man with an Eagles polo was walking back toward the visiting side.
“Did you talk to him?” Scott Jackson said to Scott Forbes.
“He’s awesome,” Forbes replied.
Who was he? Who’s awesome?
Robert Woodard filled me in. Pete Frates was a Boston College outfielder from 2004-2007, who in fact faced Woodard in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Frates was recently diagnosed with amyothropic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. “He’s got a great attitude,” Woodard said of Frates, shaking his head at the notion that someone his own age could have such a debilitating disease.
On the call for ESPN3 coverage of Friday and Sunday’s games, I got the idea to feature Frates during a break in the action, to let viewers know of his fight. Before Sunday’s game, I went down to the BC dugout to try to catch Frates, but he wasn’t there. Assistant coach Scott Friedholm told me that Frates slept in after Saturday’s marathon (a 6-5 Tar Heel win with a 4 1/2 hour rain delay). The long day had taken a lot out of him, Friedholm said.
I didn’t get to talk to Frates before the game, but asked him to join me for an inning on the broadcast. Pete and his father John came up during the third inning, and he shared his story. During a summer baseball game, he’d been hit on the hand. When the injury didn’t heal as quickly as hoped, he went to see specialists. “Being a former athlete, I know my body pretty well, so I knew there was something kind of going on,” Frates said. He was diagnosed on March 13.
Frates had been working in sales for Humana, but Eagles head coach Mike Gambino invited him back to Chestnut Hill as Boston College’s director of baseball operations. He’s now focused on bringing awareness to ALS. “[It’s a] big change in the day to day, obviously,” Frates said of life since his diagnosis. “I’m taking a lot of meds and getting into a routine there. Walking around, jumping around and running around isn’t as easy as it used to be, but we find ourselves a new routine.”
He’s also set up a web site, www.petefrates.com to raise awareness of the disease and receive donations to help with medical costs. In late April, Boston College held an ALS Awareness Day. Pete told me that it was important to him that it was ‘ALS Awareness Day,’ not ‘Pete Frates Day,’ although his jersey was honored. Since the diagnosis, he said he’s been inundated with emails, texts and phone calls. “It’s not a great way to find out people care about you, but nonetheless we’ve found out very quickly.”
ALS is a debilitating disease that affects nerve cells in the brain that control voluntary muscle movements. Lou Gehrig died at age 37, and members of the North Carolina baseball community may remember Keith LeClair, the former head coach at East Carolina, who died in 2006 at 40.
A former BC baseball captain, Frates now finds himself taking the fight to ALS. “This is what we’re dealing with now. We’re going after it and staying positive and really that’s the only way I’m going to go about it because if I wallow and sulk with the diagnosis, it’s not going to help myself or anyone around me. We’re just going after it very positively and trying to create awareness and fundraise for Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is just as traumatic and as deadly as some of the other diseases that are out there, but it just doesn’t get as much attention and fundraising as some of the others you might see out there.”
I spoke with Pete Frates for about ten minutes, never having met him before. But the Tar Heel assistant coaches were right. He is awesome.