Spring, Featured Story

A Decade Later, Frates Remains the Heartbeat of Birdball

Ten years ago, Boston College baseball needed a spark.

The team had gone 34-20 in its final season in the Big East the year before, but started just 4-11 against ACC opponents. With a 6-5 win over the University of Connecticut, BC moved one game above .500, but a difficult schedule the rest of the way threatened to give the Eagles their first losing record since 1998.

Then, on April 25, 2006, BC took on Harvard in the Beanpot Championship. Eagles’ starter Ted Ratliff allowed two runs in the first inning, putting the team in an early hole, but BC struck back. The team put up four runs in the second and a total of 10 in the game, while Ratliff settled down for a complete game three-hitter, striking out nine along the way. But no one shined like Pete Frates.

The junior soon-to-be captain of the Eagles went 4-4 on the day, tallying four RBIs and blasting a home run out of Fenway Park. It wasn’t even Frates’ best career game—that more likely came in a game the next year, when he went 4-6 with a grand slam, three-run homer, and eight total RBIs—but it was no doubt one of his most memorable.

“I haven’t had a 4-4 day since high school,” Frates said after that game.  

Since then, life has changed for Frates and his family, who learned of his diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in March 2012. Yet, that hasn’t meant the Beanpot has became any less important in their lives. Pete’s parents, Nancy and John, both came out to Northborough, Mass. this past Wednesday to watch BC beat Northeastern for the program’s 12th championship in the 26-year history of the tournament.

“It’s kind of a melancholy night for us,” Nancy said before the game. “We’re excited that BC is in the championship, we follow the Beanpot every year. The fact that 10 years ago, Pete was standing there with the iconic Beanpot over his head—every kid’s dream. A lot has happened in 10 years.”

Frates couldn’t make the game this past Wednesday since his health makes it difficult to travel, but his impact is still present. All proceeds from the $10 tickets to the game went to benefit the Pete Frates No. 3 Fund. Before the championship game, the coaches of the four schools in the Beanpot—BC, Harvard, Northeastern, and the University of Massachusetts—presented Pete’s parents with a check from the New England Baseball Complex for $5,000 toward ALS research.

frates family
Alec Greaney / Heights Editor

Although $5,000 is barely a drop in the $115 million bucket raised by the Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014, it isn’t all about the money. The biggest inspiration for the Frates family’s effort has been the fact that before Pete was diagnosed, they had no idea what ALS was.

“As Pete calls it, we’re the cool disease now,” Nancy said. “We knew we couldn’t raise money unless people really understood [what it was] … So, the fact that the Ice Bucket Challenge not only raised all that money, but people know what ALS is now. They know the unacceptable situation of this disease, that for 75 years had no progress. Well, we’re here to tell you that there has been tremendous progress. Since the Ice Bucket Challenge, lightning-speed progress.”

Nancy said that three months ago, top doctors in the field of ALS had met in Boston and announced that they expect a treatment within four to five years. Much of their fundraising right now is focused on getting in a position to spread a treatment when it is found—and many involved are optimistic it will be soon.

“We’re hoping by the 10th anniversary of Pete’s diagnosis, they’re doing things to help cure ALS, and maybe we can stop having these ALS games,” BC head coach Mike Gambino said. “That’s the goal. Doing all this stuff for ALS is not something we hope is with our program. We’re hoping in 10 years people say, remember when we used to have to make ALS a cause and now it’s gone?”

His impact has also been spreading around college baseball. One of the family’s’ latest projects, Band Together to Strike Out ALS, has been to encourage ACC teams to wear wristbands for a weekend in May that reads “STRIKE OUT ALS,” with a small “PF3” in tribute to Pete. Even though Pete can’t travel with the team to every game as he did for the first couple years after his diagnosis, the players still recognize Nancy and John, and they’ll still exchange tight hugs whenever the family shows up.

“I mean, that’s family,” Gambino said. “It’s hard to explain how much that means.”

After the game, senior Logan Hoggarth, who went 2-3 with a homer in his final Beanpot, spoke with confidence about BC’s future in the Boston.

“I know they’ll keep winning the Beanpot,” he said. “We’ll never give it back.”

Frates could hardly have said better himself how important winning the Beanpot is for Birdball—after that game 10 years ago, sometime after hoisting the trophy above his head, he wrote about how thrilled he was to be “bringing the Beanpot back to BC, where it belongs.”

Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Senior Staff 


April 24, 2016

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