Team FrateTrain Celebrates Pete Frates in Cooperstown

Pete Frates

Editor’s note: The following piece is a column from Jack Nelson, a junior right-handed pitcher on Boston College baseball, recounting his experience on the program’s trip to Cooperstown, N.Y., to honor former team captain Pete Frates, who is battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Last weekend, the entire Birdball community converged on the Baseball Hall of Fame to honor the face of our program, Pete Frates, and to celebrate the accomplishments of Team FrateTrain.

From a player’s perspective, fall ball is a grind. It has been a long year on your body and your arm is begging for a break from throwing. The lifts are tougher, the mornings are earlier and the nights later. Physically, you always seem fatigued, mentally, always drained.

But Saturday morning’s early 5 a.m. wake up wasn’t dreaded, it was anticipated. The four-hour bus ride to Cooperstown was not loathed, it was enjoyed. It was a shot in the arm during dog days of fall ball. It was time for bonding—our first road trip as a team.

It was Boston College baseball’s ALS Weekend at the Hall of Fame. Whenever we get the opportunity to support Pete we jump at the chance. His mission is our mission. “KALS” is stitched onto every glove and every player proudly sports a “#StrikeOutALS” wristband at all times.  Every August until a cure, we will take the Ice Bucket Challenge. Last April, we played our annual ALS Awareness Game at Fenway Park.

We will always help Pete, whenever and wherever it takes us. A trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame just made it that much better. And we get to play our fall world series on Doubleday Field? The stage was set for an unforgettable weekend.

Upon arrival, we were ushered into the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery. Reading all the plaques in the Hall of Fame was an absolute pleasure. We took our time, learning about the first curveball, the first perfect game and just appreciating all the awesome nicknames that baseball creates. Members of the Hall of Fame All-Name Team definitely go to Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Candy Cummings.

The launch forum for the book The Ice Bucket Challenge: Pete Frates and the Fight against ALS was an emotional roller coaster. John and Nancy Frates, Pete’s parents; head coach Mike Gambino; and author Casey Sherman traded stories about Pete and gave updates on the tremendous progress made in the fight against the ALS. No matter how many times we hear the stories, hearing about Pete’s life and his diagnosis in 2012 always hit us hard. Pete stood in our shoes. He was the leader of Birdball as a captain and he continues to carry the torch as the paragon of the program’s core values of character, toughness and class. The donations and awareness have overhauled the research industry, with the new drug “Radicava” now available in the United States. The hard work of Team FrateTrain is paying dividends as tangible results are here and more are coming. There is still much to be done.

After a full morning, it was time to lace up the spikes. Game One of the Sonny Nictakis Fall World Series was played at the historic Doubleday Field. We came out with energy, inspired to pitch with the tenacity of Bob Gibson, swing the bat as gracefully as Tony Gwynn, and run the bases as aggressively as Ty Cobb.

Escaping the bubble of BC and the hustle and bustle of Boston was also refreshing. It was a welcomed break from the high-octane nature of life on the Heights. It was a chance to slow down and reflect.

We got a chance to play baseball as it was meant to be: focused, yet loose. It felt like a backyard, summer ball game with all your best friends. We toured the Baseball Hall of Fame and found perspective among the incredible artifacts on display like Curt Schilling’s bloody sock or the Hank Aaron exhibit.

And we got to celebrate our guy Pete Frates.

At the heart of the Jesuit education is the desire to  become “men and women for others.” It is the idea of “magis,” doing more and improving the condition of others, about leaving it better for the next generation. Playing baseball for Boston College is as much about winning games as it is about cultivating your moral character and becoming a good person. As players and students we have no greater role model than Pete.

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. On the baseball field, things will go wrong. The ball will take a bad hop, the umpire will miss a call, the opposing crowd will get hostile. It is about how you react in these adverse situations that define you as a player, just as in life your true character is reflected when the situation gets tough.

Every day our education as a Birdballer is to embrace the adversity. Something goes awry? Good, it just makes for a better story when you succeed.

Pete and Team FrateTrain got to work, embracing the storm that is ALS. They got Bill Gates and the Queen of England to dump buckets of ice water on their heads. They have raised hundreds of millions of dollars.

In 2012, Pete Frates was essentially given a death sentence, no treatment, and a life expectancy of three to five years.

Now he will live on in the Hall of Fame forever.

Featured Image by Milo Stewart Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame