SPRING SPORTS PREVIEW: A Fight In Full Swing
Published: Monday, February 25, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2013 09:02
Pete Frates had seen this movie before.
When his doctor told him on March 13, 2012 that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Frates remained unfazed. At his side, his parents were bowled over by the diagnosis. But for Frates, it just confirmed what he already knew.
The 27-year-old knew his life was about to change, in more ways than he could have expected. More than anybody, Frates was ready to take on the battle.
There wasn’t much that Frates couldn’t do well growing up. His family used to joke that he was the “blessed child.”
“Everything he touched, everything he did, always was perfect,” his sister Jenn said.
A three-sport varsity athlete at Saint John’s Prep, Frates was always active, using his talent to stand out on the field and ice. Frates never wanted to focus on just one sport, but he thought football and hockey were more important to him, while baseball was “just kind of good enough.” Playing baseball at the next level wasn’t something Frates aspired to do.
That all changed the summer before senior year at a showcase at St. John’s Prep that then Boston College baseball coach Pete Hughes was running. He called Frates over and asked him how he’d like to play at BC.
“I nearly shit my pants,” Frates said. “I always wanted to go to BC, and the fact that I could play a sport just made my jaw drop.”
Frates had been wearing the maroon and gold since he was a baby. His parents, John and Nancy, had both graduated from BC in 1980. Jenn, three years older than Frates, was a senior at BC when he entered as a freshman.
During his time in Chestnut Hill, Frates started 107 games, all in the outfield. He was a captain during his senior year, which included a memorable eight-RBI game at Maryland. His parents made it to every game, home and away.
When Frates was a freshman and sophomore, he developed a tight bond with Mike Gambino, who was an assistant coach for the Eagles at the time.
“He was one of those kids you love coaching because everything was about the team and the program, not about him,” Gambino said.
At that time, Frates said, he never could have foreseen how much of an impact Gambino would eventually have on his life.
After he graduated from BC in 2007, Frates wanted to keep playing baseball. During his senior year, he got an offer to play in Germany, but Frates wanted to play in the states. After a few professional tryouts and a stint in the Independent League, Frates put his baseball career on hold and entered the workforce.
He worked for a few months, but wanted to get back into baseball, so he left in 2008 to go play in the German Baseball League.
Frates returned to the U.S. after one season, and went back to work full-time. He still got to play baseball each summer in Boston’s Intercity League as a member of the Lexington Blue Sox.
The summer of 2011 was when Frates first felt something awry. One night for the Blue Sox, he went 0-for-4 with four broken bats, something he had never done before. That performance gave him the first inkling that something was off, but he played on.
Then there were the times that Frates would be driving along Interstate 84 for sales trips and would have to pull over to take naps.
“I was just gassed,” he said.
Finally, an inside fastball that struck Frates’ left wrist in the second to last game of the season. That pitch set off an endless road of doctor’s appointments that Frates would go to over the next six months.
Andrew Frates remembers his brother telling him that there was something going on with his wrist. After the game, as the two were walking back to the car together, Pete voiced his concern for his limp left wrist.
“This wrist is really freaking me out,” he told Andrew, who innocently told his brother that he’d get over it, just as any younger brother would.
A week and a half later, Frates went to an urgent care center to see if his wrist was broken. It wasn’t, but Frates was told that he might either have some nerve damage, or that it could be something with his hamate bone. He was sent to see a few specialists, and was put through test after test.
During these six months of doctors appointments, Frates started to do some research of his own on the Internet. In October, he came upon the ALS Association website, and looked at the symptoms for ALS: trouble buttoning shirts, stumbling, tiredness. Frates had all the symptoms.
“I probably freaked out real quick in October, but I didn’t want to say anything, cause what am I going to do?” Frates said.
He decided not to tell his parents of his suspicion that he had ALS.
“That’s just the way Pete is—he didn’t want to upset us, he didn’t want to get us nervous,” John Frates said.
On the night of March 12, Pete and John Frates were sitting in their home in Beverly, Mass. watching a game. John shut off the television during a commercial, and turned to his son.
“Hey, Pete, what’s going on here? What are we doing?” John said.
With a neuromuscular appointment at Beth Israel Hospital looming the next morning, John wanted to know how serious Pete’s condition might be.