Around the Horn
---- — DANVERS — The St. John’s Prep baseball team wasn’t looking to strike out their opponents from Malden Catholic on Monday.
The Eagles were there to strike out ALS.
Debuting special alternate jerseys in honor to St. John’s Prep Hall of Famer Pete Frates (Class of 2003), the Eagles took down MC, 3-1. With purpose in their steps and their brother’s battle against Lou Gehrig’s Disease in their hearts, the Prep’s 2013 team showed the bond that connects all Eagles is a strong as its ever been.
Frates, who went to captain the baseball team at Boston College, has been fighting ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a degenerative nerve condition) for a little more than a year. He’s used his connections in the baseball world to spread awareness about the disease, and his family launched the Pete Frates No. 3 Fund.
In a ceremony before Monday’s game, Prep captains Tommy Buonopane, Tyler Noe and Brandon Bingel presented Frates with a check for the fund and his own special alternate jersey.
“We wanted to do something for Pete. He’s such a big part of the school,” said Noe, whose parents helped provide the jerseys. “This was really special for both us and Pete.”
The alternate jerseys were white pullovers with blue and gray horizontal stripes at the bottom, emblazoned with “PREP” across the chest. Designed by the players, they put the “Strike Out ALS” ribbon in the upper left corner, and a red baseball with Frates’ No. 3 on the sleeves. They also had their trademark Eagle on the back.
“We weren’t sure what the best way to honor Pete would be; maybe put his name on all our shirts or his number. But these jerseys were the perfect thing,” said Bingel.
Frates’ passion and positive outlook are easy to relate to for today’s players, who meet him and immediately want to know how they can help.
“Pete’s a great individual. He was a great teammate, a great player and he’s been an inspiration to all,” said Eagles head coach Pat Yanchus.
The effort to strike out ALS isn’t limited to the Prep’s Danvers campus; it stretches across the country to Eagles past and present.
Last weekend, Frates’ coach at BC, Mik Aoki, had a special ALS Awareness day in South Bend, Ind. for his current squad, Notre Dame. His players wore red hats with Frates’ No. 3, and St. John’s baseball alum Pat Connaughton started for the Irish. The game was against Quinnipiac, and in the opposing dugout honoring Frates was another ex-Eagle, QU pitcher Nick Fabrizio.
The cause reaches pro baseball, where St. John’s grad Stephen Peterson, a teammate of Pete’s brother Andrew Frates, has a red Team Frate Train T-shirt in his locker in the Milwaukee Brewers minor league system. The same is true of Matt Antonelli, Pete’s teammate in football, hockey and baseball at St. John’s, in the Cleveland Indians system.
Boston College is hosting an ALS Awareness Day on May 4, and proceeds from this year’s Baseball Beanpot at Fenway Park will also benefit the fund.
It even stretches to pro hockey, where American Hockey League defenseman Will O’Neill, another teammate of Andrew’s in his time at St. John’s, has a Strike Out ALS hat. New York Ranger Brian Boyle, who went to BC with Pete, is another big supporter of the fight against ALS, and Boston Bruins players such as Patrice Bergeron (who donated his suite to Frates and his family/friends for a game earlier this season) and Shawn Thornton have worn Frate Train gear in the Bruins’ locker room and during TV interviews.
“It’s a brotherhood, forever,” Bingel said of the bond that’s brought the Eagles to Frates’ side. “There were a lot of alumni here, Dr. (Ed) Hardiman (SJP headmaster) came down; it was a great thing.”
When Frates speaks, his message is never about himself. He tells players to be passionate, genuine and hard working. He knows just when to crack a joke and is always smiling.
“Just to shake Pete’s hand and be around him, it means a lot to us,” said Noe. “It was great to be able to get together and play with some meaning, play for someone. The whole Prep community has always had each other’s backs — and we’re glad to be part of that.”
To learn more about Frates and the fight against ALS, visit http://www.PeteFrates.com.
Peabody’s superb right-hander, Pat Ruotolo, joined some elite company when he fanned his 300th batter last week against Lynn Classical. Tanner greats Mike Proto and Jeff Allison are the only other members of the school’s 300-K club on record.
Allison, Class of 2003 and one-time first round draft choice of the Florida Marlins, has the school’s career strikeout record with 378. He did that in just 191 innings, averaging 1.97 punchouts per inning and an absurd 17.8 K/9 innings. As a senior, Allison fanned 128 batters in just 55 innings (20.9 K/9) and he was 24-3 in his career.
Ruotolo, a UConn commit, is remarkably durable, having already thrown 195 career innings. With 308 strikeouts, he averages 1.58 per inning and has a K/9 of 14.2. The senior workhorse has gone seven or more innings in his last 13 starts.
Proto, who helped Peabody reach the 1996 Division 1 state final and threw for Clemson, was one of the winningest pitchers in Tanner history. He went 27-7 and struck out 328 batters as a four-year varsity hurler, which spanned 249 innings.
Ruotolo has 18 wins, plus four saves, in his career. He hasn’t allowed a run in 17 2/3 innings to start 2013, after tossing up scoreless frames streaks of 22 and 34 last season.
A wrist injury limited his preseason, but you’d never know it looking at the superb pitching line Beverly senior Alex Toomey has so far. He’s 3-0 with a win in relief over Masconomet, a 12-strikeout performance in a victory over Lynn Classical, and a 10-K, 1-hit shutout of Salem this week.
“It’s a big plus for us. Alex pitched extremely well at the end of the season last year, but we had to take it easy with him early on,” said Beverly coach Dave Wilbur. “He knows how to pitch. His location has been on and we’re playing good defense behind him.”
Monday, Beverly (5-2) was bolstered by the return of slugging first baseman Kevin Cuneo, who missed a week with a leg injury. He drove in a run in a victory over Salem.
Northeastern Conference crossover (Large vs. Small) games begin this week, and Beverly athletic director James Coffey tells us that they will count for the standings in baseball this spring. There was some confusion because the league did not count those inter-division games in boys hockey this past winter, but they will be included in the baseball race.
Peabody (7-1, 5-0 NEC) leads the Large race by two games after the first run through, while Danvers (8-0, 5-0) had a game-and-a-half lead on Gloucetser in the Small chase.
There may not be a team playing more close games than Bishop Fenwick, which rallied to win a pair of wild ones (11-9 over Gloucester and 8-7 over St. Mary’s Lynn) against good teams over the last six days. The Crusaders (6-1) have been getting clutch hits from seniors Brian Burke and Gianni Esposito in their six-game winning streak. Burke also picked up the save in the win over St. Mary’s.
Fenwick has two big Catholic Central League games coming up, with unbeaten Archbishop Williams today and Arlington Catholic next week.
Peabody native Matt Hosman, a sophomore at Phillips Andover, will be back on the North Shore today when Phillips visits Pingree in South Hamilton. Phillips won the Central New England title a year ago and the Highlanders have won four of the last six New England Small School titles, so it should be a good take between solid programs.
Around the Horn, a column on North Shore high school baseball, appears in The Salem News every Wednesday during the spring sports season. Contact assistant sports editor matt Williams at 978-338-2669, MWilliams@salemnews.com and follow him on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN. #StrikeOutALS.