Hilliard honors father's memory on Gehrig Day

June 5th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

As MLB celebrated the third annual Lou Gehrig Day on Friday, Braves outfielder proudly honored his father’s memory and hoped raising awareness about ALS may lead to the discovery of a cure for this currently fatal disease. 

“Awareness is key with a disease like this because a lot of people refer to it as an underfunded disease,” Hilliard said. “I think the more people realize how terrible this disease is and how it not only affects you as a family, but like the financial burden it places, maybe it will move people to give money and help fund research to find a cure. I feel like that's the ultimate goal, so that's what we're doing.”

Hilliard didn’t know much about ALS when he did the Ice Bucket Challenge while in college. But he certainly learned the significance of it three years later, when his father was diagnosed with ALS.

When Dr. Jim Hilliard, a longtime orthopedist and sports medicine surgeon, learned he had ALS in 2018, Sam had just completed a season with the Rockies’ Double-A affiliate. Still, even as the symptoms became more debilitating the following summer, a proud father was there to see Sam homer in his Aug. 27, 2019 MLB debut against the Red Sox at Coors Field.

Jim Hilliard passed away this past September. But his memory will remain strong every June 2, when MLB celebrates Lou Gehrig Day, an event the Hilliard family helped create.

Sam appreciates the tremendous support shown to MLB.com’s Sarah Langs, who has continued to show her passion for baseball since being diagnosed with ALS in 2021. The Mets honored Langs on Friday, and MLB.com colleague Mandy Bell produced a great story about her best friend.

“You can tell she has made a positive impact on a lot of people and people have shown her a lot of love,” Hilliard said. “I wish her the best.”

The Atlanta sports media world was also recently affected by ALS, when longtime scribe Ray Glier was diagnosed with this disease. Glier penned a story about what he experienced during the 16-plus months that elapsed between the first sign of symptoms and his April diagnosis.