Lou Gehrig Day hits home for O's organization

Son of former pitcher Poole, battling ALS, throws 1st pitch at Camden Yards

June 2nd, 2022

BALTIMORE -- Brandon Hyde was making his daily drive to Camden Yards on Thursday morning, tuning into MLB Network Radio, as he often does. On it, he heard Jim Poole, the former Orioles reliever, speaking of his experience with ALS. Poole and his family would be in attendance for Thursday’s tilt against the Mariners, the second annual Lou Gehrig Day across Major League Baseball. Hearing his “incredibly inspirational” story, Hyde was looking forward to meeting Poole.

Hyde’s connection to the illness known as Lou Gehrig’s disease had recently become more real.

An emotional Hyde revealed pregame that Sam Gomes, a former coach of his and O’s catching coordinator Tim Cossins at Santa Rosa Junior College, passed away after a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a nerve disease that gradually causes the body’s physical mobility to shut down.

“I had a friend die last week from it,” Hyde said. “It does hit home.”

That’s what made Thursday as meaningful as it was to the Orioles' organization. Hyde shook Poole’s hand -- as did others from each organization. Poole was joined by his son, Hayden, and wife, Kim, in being recognized pregame, with Hayden throwing the ceremonial first pitch off the mound Jim once called his own.

Poole is now wheelchair-bound, with weakening capability in his left arm -- the same arm that made 431 appearances for eight different teams from 1990-2000, including four seasons in Baltimore from 1991-94. A year ago, when MLB honored Gehrig for the first time on the 80th anniversary of the Hall of Famer's death, Poole had not yet been diagnosed with ALS, though he feared it might have been the cause of some of the limited functionality he had started sensing.

“Now, it’s ingrained in my life, my family’s life,” Poole said. “I was glad when MLB did it last year. Obviously, I have even more appreciation that MLB and the clubs have stepped up to try and figure out a way to get enough people involved, and maybe something good comes out of it sooner.”

The connection to Lou Gehrig Day extends further into the Orioles’ organization.

More of it was present on Thursday. Matt Kurkjian, brother of long-time Orioles beat reporter Tim Kurkjian -- now with ESPN -- delivered the lineup card to the umpires. A score of Kurkjian family and friends wore shirseys with “M. Kurkjian” on the back.

But the connections are also behind the scenes. Catcher Jacob Nottingham, signed this offseason and currently with Triple-A Norfolk, lost his grandmother and aunt to ALS. Taking up the entirety of his left arm is a tattoo with Gehrig looking over each of them.

And, of course, it was Gehrig’s Iron Man streak of 2,130 consecutive games played that Cal Ripken Jr. broke in 1995 to stand as the biggest moment in Orioles history.

Baltimore’s ties to the Yankees' legend are palpable. That all shined a light on the signficance of Thursday's events for individuals with varying connections. And the central message was clear: ALS can impact anyone, regardless of demographics, regardless of stature.

“That hits home to Baltimore, to fans,” Hyde said of Poole, “of a guy that pitched here that's battling [ALS].”