Boston College baseball does not hand out honors halfheartedly. In the history of the program, Birdball has only retired one jersey: No. 13, belonging to BC’s winningest coach and its field’s namesake, Eddie Pellagrini.
But that will change on Saturday, when head coach Mike Gambino and the Eagles will immortalize Pete Frates’ No. 3 jersey on Shea Field’s temporary outfield fence during a pregame ceremony before their fifth annual ALS Awareness Game on Saturday afternoon. The event will begin at 1:10 p.m., followed by a crucial conference bout for Birdball against Wake Forest at 1:30 p.m.
For Frates, it’s the latest in a series of achievements since being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2012.
Frustrated with the lack of progress in ALS research since Lou Gehrig brought the disease to the national spotlight in 1939, Frates and his family vowed to raise money and awareness to fight the illness. They created the viral Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised $200 million toward finding a cure for ALS (fundraising that’s already helping researchers) and earned Frates the Inspiration of the Year honor from Sports Illustrated in 2014. A SportsCenter documentary on the former BC captain was nominated for an Emmy, as well.
The Frates family didn’t stop there. Its tireless efforts include starting the Pete Frates No. 3 Fund and Band Together to Strike Out ALS, a project that pushes for ACC teams to wear wristbands with “STRIKE OUT ALS” and a small “PF3” to promote awareness.
“[It] all goes back to one thing: Pete’s reaction when he got his diagnosis was, ‘Alright, here we go, let’s fight,’” Gambino said. “Nothing was about him. It was, ‘What can we do to end this disease?’”
Although Gambino is excited to recognize such an integral part of the Birdball family, he doesn’t want to lose sight of the bigger picture.
“This is a great honor for Pete, but the goal is: I don’t want to have any more ALS games,” he said. “I want my kids to talk about ALS how we talk about polio.”
Born and raised in Massachusetts, Frates starred in the outfield for the Eagles from 2004-2007. He served as captain during his senior season and finished his career with a .228 average, 11 home runs, 56 RBIs and 34 stolen bases. In 2010, while playing in a local men’s league, he helped Gambino recruit then-teammate Chris Shaw, a first-round draft pick last year and arguably the best player in team history. Although Shaw is currently in San Jose with the San Francisco Giants Class-A affiliate, Frates continues to be a big part of his life.
“Whatever number [Shaw] wears going through the minor leagues, he wants to always try to have a 3 in that number to honor Pete, which is an amazing thing,” Gambino said Tuesday.
After Frates’ diagnosis, he was hired as the program’s director of baseball operations and remains as close as ever to the players despite no longer travelling with the team.
“These guys are sending videos to Pete through Facebook, before a game, after a win, checking in with him,” Gambino said. “Even though he’s not travelling with us now, he’s as much a part of this program as any of our staff members who are travelling.”
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Senior Staff