Former BC baseball captain and ALS hero Pete Frates (center) and his family along with head baseball coach Mike Gambino (far left) and William V. Campbell Director of Athletics Martin Jarmond (third from left) attend a June 26 press conference announcing the naming of Phase II of the Harrington Athletics Village in Frates’ honor.
Made possible by the generosity of John Harrington ’57, MBA’66, H’10, P’82, ’89; the Yawkey Foundations; and other Boston College donors, the Pete Frates Center will mean different things to different people: a new era for the sports it serves or BC baseball’s entry into 21st-century Division I competition, capitalizing on a strong 2019 season. But for head baseball coach Mike Gambino, it’s about the man who made an indelible mark at the Heights and has become an icon around the world for his work raising funds and awareness for a disease often associated with the legendary Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig.
Pete Frates ’07 was a star outfielder and team captain at BC. Just five years after his graduation, at the age of 27, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neurodegenerative disease that is always fatal. Gambino, who has remained a close friend since coaching him at the Heights, vividly recalls the phone call when Frates shared the devastating news. It was a Friday, and Gambino was in Clemson for a game. He began to say he’d call Frates back. “And then as soon as I heard his voice I knew: this was a different phone call,” Gambino recalls.
That Monday morning, Frates and his father, John, were in Gambino’s office—already making a plan. He remembers, “Pete said, ‘Here’s what we’re doing. We’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves. We have a great opportunity here. There hasn’t been any progress made on this disease in years. That’s unacceptable.’”
As a player, Frates was known for his intense dedication and tireless work ethic. “He was the guy who showed up early and stayed late, every day,” recalls Gambino. “He willed himself to be a good player.” But his lasting impact on his teammates came off the field.
Frates’ first priority was always his team. After his diagnosis, the ALS community immediately became his new priority, his new team. Ultimately, the dedication and determination Pete Frates exhibited on the baseball field would ignite a worldwide push for ALS.
On a sunny August day in 2014, Pete Frates sat in his wheelchair in the Fenway Park outfield while friends and family—the Frate Train, as they’ve dubbed themselves—filled a cooler with ice and water. His wife, Julie ’12, raised the pail and doused him thoroughly, and Pete became the latest participant in the already viral Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS.
Frates wasn’t the first to shiver for a cause. Earlier that year, several celebrities had engaged in similar fundraising stunts for a variety of causes. The “challenge” was to either donate $100 to charity, or film yourself dumping a bucket of ice water over your head and challenge others via social media.
Frates’ close friend and fellow ALS patient Pat Quinn took the challenge in June of that year. When he uploaded his video to Facebook, he tagged Pete Frates. Frates would later recall, “This is exactly what I was waiting for.”
Within days, Pete Frates and the Frate Train turned dumping freezing water over their heads into a fundraising juggernaut. Frates reached out to friends in the athletic community, including Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, the New England Patriots’ Julian Edelman and Tom Brady, and the Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan ’07. They tagged other high-profile celebrities, and the challenge became the very definition of a social media sensation—incredibly, more than 17 million videos would eventually be uploaded. Legions of athletes and celebrities, including LeBron James, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, and even former president George W. Bush, took the challenge. The entire Red Sox, Patriots, and New York Jets teams got wet; so did a group of nuns in Dublin, Ireland.
By the time Pete went to Fenway, the Ice Bucket Challenge was just weeks old and had already raised more than $200 million, and with more than 2.5 million new donors contributing to the ALS Association. As Gambino points out, “It’s hard to remember that before Pete, most people had very little idea what ALS was. Now, because of the Ice Bucket Challenge—because of Pete—they know.” Nancy Frates ’80, Pete Frates’ mother, sums it up: “The Ice Bucket Challenge was the paradigm shift in a disease base that had been relatively status quo for 150 years.”
Appropriately, the Pete Frates Center will shift the paradigm for BC’s baseball and softball players. Soon, they will enjoy facilities essential to student-athlete development on and off the field, says Gambino. “Part of what makes a Jesuit education so important and so valuable is that we’re obsessed with the formation and development of our student-athletes,” he explains. It’s not only about the hitting tunnels, indoor turf field, and other training spaces, exciting as they are. The center will also include spaces for study, for relaxation, and for developing the team bond. “The clubhouse is so important,” says Gambino. “It’s where relationships are built, where good conversations, and sometimes hard conversations, are held.”
The building is a game-changer; its name an inspiration. “Not every kid is going to change the world like Pete, but they can, in their own way, live the way Pete has as a person of character and with a life of integrity,” says Gambino. Martin Jarmond, the William V. Campbell Director of Athletics, agrees, saying: “Pete embodies our Jesuit motto of ‘men and women for others’ better than anyone I know.” And like the place named in his honor, that’s a powerful influence.
Learn more about the Pete Frates Center at bc.edu/greaterheights
A HOME TO CALL THEIR OWN
The Pete Frates Center, a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to Boston College baseball and softball, will open in the summer of 2020, as phase II of the Harrington Athletics Village.