By Matt Williams
---- — SALEM — Pete Frates believes that baseball saved his life.
The 28-year-old from Beverly was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) a little more than a year ago. He was hit in the wrist by a pitch in a summer baseball game and spent months trying to figure out why it wasn’t healing properly before doctor’s confirmed it was the degenerative nerve condition.
“If I wasn’t hit by that ball, we might not have found it early,” Frates said during last night’s 51st Salem News Student-Athlete Award banquet. “We know about, and someone will figure something out, medically. Baseball saved my life.”
Frates, a 2003 St. John’s Prep graduate and former Boston College baseball captain, was the honored guest speaker at last night’s awards banquet, held at Finz in Salem.
A three-sport standout in his time at St. John’s, Frates certainly identified with the candidates selected by 14 area high school’s for the Salem News’ most prestigious honor (won by Masconomet’s Dylan Mann).
“I’m honored to be able to speak to you ... and I’m a little jealous of all of you,” said Frates, adding with his trademark self-deprecating humor, “My friend, Matt Antonelli, played all three sports with me (at St. John’s Prep) and he won all the awards. I didn’t get a sniff.”
Frates earned a standing ovation from the audience, and spoke to a long line of well-wishers among those in attendance after the award presentation. His powerful message resonated with the nominees and their families because he delivered it with humor, sensitivity and wit.
“There’s three things I want you to remember,” he said. “Be passionate, be genuine and be hard working.”
Since being diagnosed, Frates has dedicated himself to spreading ALS awareness. He’s done so through his connections on the North Shore athletic scene, through his work as director of baseball operations at Boston College and through the Pete Frates No. 3 Fund. He’s been the subject of an on-line documentary produced by a St. John’s Prep student as well.
Frates recalled that many of the people that have helped him in his fight with ALS were the same people helping him when he was playing high school sports. Many of them he met on the football and baseball field, and in hockey rinks, while growing up in Beverly or competing at St. John’s.
“Your teammates, they’re not just people you’re with on the field or in school. They’re people that will be there your entire life,” he said. “There are guys I hadn’t seen in 10 years that come to help us now, and it’s like we saw each other yesterday. Be good good to your teammates. They’re like your family.”
It was just 10 years ago that Frates was a standout student-athlete at St. John’s Prep, so it was easy for him to relate to the student-athlete nominees. He implored them to be thankful to their families and to go after their dreams with vigor and passion.
“Don’t be afraid to be a leader, and don’t be afraid to be great,” Frates said. “Your parents, and your friends and teammates, they think you’re something special. That’s because you are.”
To learn more about Pete Frates, Team Frate Train and the fight against ALS, visit www.PeteFrates.com and follow him on Twitter on .