Musgrove's charity trip to bring heat to Antarctica

Padres righty plans to throw fastest pitch on the continent, will benefit Challenged Athletes Foundation

November 19th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- It started as an idea on a fishing boat. The Padres had an off-day earlier this year, when met Padres fan Neill Drake while fishing. In the winters, Drake charters expeditions to Antarctica, and he threw out the question of whether Musgrove might want to join.

For Musgrove that was an easy yes, a unique vacation the week of Thanksgiving to celebrate his 30th birthday. But then the two got to talking.

"The more we talked about it," Musgrove said. "The more we realized there was more we could do."

Musgrove is heavily involved in the Challenged Athletes Foundation, a charity with the mission to provide opportunity and support to people with physical challenges so they can pursue active lifestyles. Drake is involved in similar causes and wondered to Musgrove whether it might be possible to intertwine the trip with some charity work.

That's when Musgrove's ears perked up. The veteran right-hander has always been active in the communities he's played in. But upon his return to San Diego, those charitable efforts picked up significantly.

"I'm really just trying not to waste opportunities," Musgrove said. "The platform that you get with baseball -- and especially with me being from San Diego and the notoriety I have here now -- I'm really just trying not to waste the opportunities that were given to me.”

Musgrove's trip to Antarctica suddenly took on a different objective. It became a fundraiser for the Challenged Athletes Foundation, as Musgrove invited anyone and everyone to "Join Joe Musgrove on this epic adventure to Antarctica." The proceeds would go to CAF.

But Musgrove found the trip wasn't getting the early attention it deserved, so he and Drake devised another plan: Musgrove would set the record for fastest pitch on Antarctica, raising money and awareness for the Challenged Athletes Foundation in the process.

Musgrove bought ads on social media for the trip and put together a fundraiser in early September, which he said raised close to $100,000. Teammate Sean Manaea, now a free agent, joined the cause, and he will be traveling with Musgrove and their girlfriends.

The Challenged Athletes Foundation is a cause close to Musgrove's heart. When Musgrove was traded to the Padres in January 2021, he let his godfather know he'd be interested in doing some charity work. Shortly thereafter, Musgrove’s godfather took him to his first CAF event -- a triathlon in Mission Bay.

"After the first one, I really just fell in love with the kids, the athletes," Musgrove said. "Getting to interact with those kids, I just left there feeling different. I loved the message of CAF. I loved the mission."

Along the way, Musgrove developed a friendship with 16-year-old Landis Sims, who was born without arms and lower legs. But with prosthetic legs and without hands, Sims has still grown up playing baseball his whole life, even competing against children without disabilities. Last year, Sims signed a one-day contract to be a Padre, and he played catch with Musgrove on the field pregame.

The success of Musgrove's fundraiser allowed for Musgrove to invite Sims and a couple other members of the Challenged Athletes Foundation to Antarctica with him. The expedition features daily hikes through the continent. The mission of CAF has always been to push limits, after all.

"It's great to be able to give him another cool experience, something that he'll never forget, and honestly it's a way for him to challenge himself," Musgrove said. "This is going to be a lot more difficult a trip for somebody in his situation than it is for your average person."

The trip begins on Thanksgiving day for Musgrove, with a flight to Buenos Aires. From there, they leave for Ushuaia, where, on Nov. 28, the expedition will depart for Antarctica, with Drake serving as polar exploration guide. The trek lasts nine days, with various stops throughout the continent. They’ll be aboard the Ocean Victory, which Drake notes is the most environmentally friendly ship in the Polar Fleet.

Part of Drake's stated mission is protecting the environment. Before the group lands, they’ll have a biosecurity check, making sure they’re not bringing foreign biological elements to the continent through their clothing or luggage. Each day of the trip, they’ll hear from scientists and academics about different aspects of the environment.

The ecological aspect led to numerous hurdles for Drake and Musgrove, however. They had to apply for multiple permits to throw even one pitch on the continent – ensuring nothing they did would damage the environment or local wildlife. That process took five months. Among the things Musgrove was asked to submit were his season stats and his average release point. Eventually, he got approval. (He did post a career-best 2.93 ERA in 2022, after all.)

“We just want to make sure that people don’t think we’re going down to Antarctica and turning it into a playground,” Drake said. “There’s some respect that needs to be given to Antarctica when it comes to these kinds of things. We have all the safety protocols in place.”

Musgrove will set the record at Kerr Point, one of the continent’s rare flatter surfaces. (Yes, he’s setting the record regardless, as there’s currently no established record for fastest pitch on Antarctica.)

Musgrove has only just begun playing catch after his season ended a month ago. No, he doesn’t think he’ll be hitting the upper 90s like he was in the postseason. His spin rate may be down a few rpms, too (CC: Buck Showalter). But whatever that radar gun says, it’ll be the new continental record.

"I don't think I'm trying to break the sound barrier," Musgrove said. "I'm just trying to successfully throw one pitch."

Eight thousand miles is an awfully long way to travel for one pitch. But for a cause like this one -- it’s well worth it.