Pete Frates with BC coach Mike Gambino, his father John and brother Andrew, and Wake Forest coach Tom Walter (John Quackenbos/BC Athletics)


Fenway To Host BC-NCSU For ALS Game


Back in May, we wrote about former Boston College captain Pete Frates and his courageous battle against ALS. Frates, his family and BC coach Mike Gambino are determined to make the fight against ALS synonymous with college baseball, the way Coaches vs. Cancer is tied to college basketball. Last year, they launched the Band Together To Strike Out ALS campaign, which helped raise awareness of the disease and raise funds for a cure by getting college baseball players around the country to wear special wristbands in the month of May.

The battle will continue in 2017, and the Frates family hopes to continue expanding the Band Together campaign. This year, the Red Sox and NC State are joining BC in the forefront of that battle. Boston College will host the Wolfpack at Fenway Park for an ALS awareness game, tentatively scheduled for April 22.

Both the Red Sox and the Wolfpack have been directly touched by ALS themselves. Former Red Sox great Curt Schilling has been one of the most visible and active leaders in the fight against ALS, and the organization has recently rallied around longtime NESN cameraman John Martin, who was diagnosed with the disease.

And this past spring, former NC State standout Chris Combs, who played at the school from 1994-97, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. You’re probably familiar with Frates’ story, but chances are you know less about Combs. Former longtime NC State baseball SID Bruce Winkworth, who was instrumental in connecting Gambino with Combs, recently posted a great piece about Combs on his blog, and I asked if I could share his words in this space. Combs is another great champion in this fight. Winkworth writes:

I first met Chris when he was about 8 years old and serving as a bat boy for his dad with the Wolfpack’s summer league entry in a now-long defunct college summer league called the North State League. I met him then, but I didn’t really get to know him until he came to NC State as a player in the fall of 1993. Like everyone else who’s ever come in contact with him, I liked him immediately. Impossible not to, really. There’s something disarming about Chris Combs that just puts people at ease. Bloodlines certainly have something to do with it. As most Wolfpack fans know, Chris comes from a great family with super parents. He was raised well. And part of it is just his own DNA. I can’t say I know him well but I know him well enough. Wolfpack head coach Elliott Avent only coached Chris for one season but absolutely loved him, still does, and ranks him among his favorite players ever. Once his playing career was over, Chris and his people skills were a perfect fit for the Wolfpack Club. He was, and remains, a rising star there.

I don’t need to remind anyone what a horrible disease ALS is. And as most people reading this blog probably know, it’s stricken a disproportionate number of baseball people since Lou Gehrig was diagnosed in 1939, or so it seems. The list includes Gehrig, Catfish Hunter (how’s this for irony? Francis Combs, Chris’s father, was Hunter’s high school catcher), former big league catcher Ed Sadowski, Georgia Kindall (wife of former major league infielder and University of Arizona coach Jerry Kindall), former East Carolina coach Keith LeClair, and former Boston College first baseman and team captain Pete Frates. Painful as it is, we now have to add Chris Combs to the list.

To no one’s surprise and to his everlasting credit, Chris is not fighting ALS in private. Possibly because of his high-profile job and his fund-raising contacts with the Wolfpack Club — more likely because he’s a competitive former ballplayer and plays everything to win — he’s fighting this very much in the public eye (check out the Twitter account and website address, and don’t be afraid to pull out your checkbook). A charity auction he helped to organize in October raised more than $1 million for ALS awareness and research. We can expect much more of the same in the months and years ahead.

Because of Frates, diagnosed in 2012, college baseball has moved into the forefront of the fight against ALS. Frates was the inspiration for the now legendary ice-bucket challenge, which helped to raise hundreds of million of dollars for ALS research. BC head coach Mike Gambino’s stated goal is to make college baseball as synonymous with the fight against ALS as college basketball is for its Coaches Against Cancer campaign. Because of Chris Combs, NC State now has joined Boston College as leaders of that fight, and that means everyone, administration, coaches, players, former players, fans, former SIDs and blog writers, like it or not, we’re all part of this.

Dating back to Lou Gehrig’s diagnosis in 1939, medical science went more than seven decades with no progress towards finding any kind of treatment or cure for ALS. No progress, as in none at all, nada, zip, zero, the null set. That’s changed in the last few years. Thanks to research funded by the ice-bucket challenge, a gene that researchers believe is a common link among ALS sufferers has been discovered and isolated. Because of this discovery and subsequent research, a possible treatment could be approved by the FDA in the next year or so. That’s a far cry from a cure, mind you, a quantum leap, in fact, but a treatment to help allay some of the symptoms is a huge first step. And that’s where we come in. At the very least, contribute to your local ALS Foundation chapter. Wear the red bracelet to show your support in the fight against ALS. And don’t forget to pray, for Chris Combs, for Pete Frates, for every ALS patient, and for their families and their loved ones. Keep them in your thoughts. Send them good vibrations.

Heightened awareness and further research are vital in helping to strike out ALS. This is more than sports; it’s life and death, and it’s the least we can do to honor Chris Combs, who is now the most important and the most inspirational player in NC State baseball history. His fight is our fight.

Join the Discussion