Meet the Reds fan behind 1st Lou Gehrig Day

June 27th, 2021

CINCINNATI -- From his wheelchair in his office at the Mason, Ohio, house he shares with his parents, Adam Wilson dedicated himself to getting Lou Gehrig his own special day on the baseball calendar.

That day is Monday, rescheduled because of a rainout on the originally scheduled date. It will be every June 2 going forward as Major League Baseball recognizes that date as Lou Gehrig Day.

“I'm so proud to be part of a group that worked hard every day, starting in August of 2019, to make it happen,” Wilson said in an email to “Together, a group of ALS patients, caregivers, family and organizations created something that will be part of MLB forever!”

Gehrig joins Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente as the only players whose legacies are celebrated annually with dedicated, league-wide days.

Wilson, 39, is fighting the disease that bears Gehrig’s name -- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- and took the Yankees legend’s life on June 2, 1941, when he was only 37 years old. Eighty years later, there remains no cure for ALS, a fatal progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord and leads to loss of muscle control and movement.

A Sycamore High School and Ohio State University graduate, Wilson was 32 when he was given his ALS diagnosis. Today, he still has some use of his left hand, but uses his wheelchair to move and an eye-gaze computer to communicate. Wilson was able to bank his voice in the computer that speaks for him, and he can also communicate and email via an app on his phone.

“I was diagnosed on April 7, 2015, but I first noticed symptoms in August of 2013,” Wilson explained. “In that time, I had 4 EEGs, a myelogram, a couple of CT scans and endless doctor appointments! I knew it was probably ALS when the radiologist that read my myelogram sat me down and said, ‘Has anyone talked to you about ALS?’ By my April appointment, I learned all about it.”

Since his diagnosis, Wilson has been embraced by the ALS Association of Central and Southern Ohio, which helps him with the costs of getting everything he needs to live with the disease. He’s also part of a community group called, “I am ALS.”

A lifelong Reds fan, Wilson and his parents were frequent ticket holders for games at Riverfront Stadium.

“Our rule was you had to stay until the last out,” said Jan Wilson, Adam’s mother.

Wilson was eight years old when his favorite club and favorite player of the time -- Barry Larkin -- won the 1990 World Series. Wilson’s all-time favorite player remains Joey Votto. Both players happen to be past winners of the Lou Gehrig Award, given by Gehrig’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity to a Major League player who best exemplifies the Hall of Famer’s “spirit and character” on and off the field.

The national Phi Delta Theta headquarters is based at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

At his house, Wilson has autographed baseballs signed by every Lou Gehrig Award winner since its inception in 1955. He’s the only known person with such a collection.

A few years ago, Wilson and others involved with “I am ALS” began to wonder why MLB didn’t have a day already dedicated to Gehrig.

“It’s been pretty much his lifeline,” Jan Wilson said. “They share all the same things. Besides being connected by ALS, they all share their passion for baseball and for accomplishing that goal. Obviously, besides having this come to fruition, the community he’s been surrounded by has been fantastic.”

Wilson and a few others formed a subcommittee and held meetings to get Gehrig his own dedicated day in baseball.

“We first thought about July 4, the date he gave the famous "Luckiest Man" speech, but we wanted to avoid any reason for MLB to say no,” Wilson said. “Someone in the group suggested June 2, as it was the date he died as well as the date he took over as the starting first baseman for Wally Pipp [in 1925].

“We learned early on that to succeed we had to get team and player support before we brought it to MLB. Previous attempts had tried a top-down approach, so we went grassroots.”

The “I am ALS” group began reaching out to teams and players, including Reds great Johnny Bench. Wilson also got into touch with Steve Good, who heads the Lou Gehrig Award for Phi Delta Theta. Wilson and Good forged a relationship during the process. Wilson was added to the committee that seeks and evaluates nominees for the Lou Gehrig Award.

“I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Adam,” Good said. “His persistence has been incredible in this. I’ve tried to step back and think about how I would approach life if I had ALS. It’s really amazing to me how he keeps moving forward and pushing this. It will be a very special day for him.”

Wilson and his group hoped to get Lou Gehrig Day on the 2020 schedule, but were temporarily derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic that postponed the start of the season until July.

Eventually, the clubs that Wilson’s group contacted started replying that they were interested in having a day for Gehrig in 2021.

“Within a day, after the first few ballclubs started rushing in, it was a big party atmosphere. It was fun watching it happen,” Wilson’s father, Tim, said.

As part of Lou Gehrig Day, players, managers and coaches will wear a special “Lou Gehrig Day” patch on uniforms. Red “4-ALS” wristbands will be available to be worn in-game.

“It’s been great for Adam. It was something to really accomplish that’s important. It’s fantastic for his mental health,” Tim Wilson said. “Adam has a remarkably positive attitude towards his whole thing. Physically, obviously, it’s been a struggle. But he has something that’s very purposeful going on.

“This has been a godsend, really, for him to be involved in all of this. He’s been one of the guys that’s been pushing from the beginning. There has been a real sense of urgency. It’s been great from that standpoint, being part of a team that accomplishes something like this that’s nationwide.”

The focus of Lou Gehrig Day aims to remember his legacy and all of those who were lost to ALS while raising awareness and funding for research. The day will also celebrate groups and individuals who have led the pursuit for a cure.

“I'm confident that, eventually, we will find a cure,” Wilson said. “But the question is, when? There is some exciting science being worked on and everyone would go for a treatment to extend our lives. A person diagnosed today has the same prognosis as Lou did over 80 years ago, and that’s unacceptable. This disease will kill 50 percent of us within three years, it will kill 90 percent of us within five years. The lifetime risk of getting ALS in the U.S. is 1 in 300.”

Wednesday's Lou Gehrig Day at Great American Ball Park was postponed because of inclement weather. Wilson was slated to be on hand to watch his 11-year-old daughter, Avery, throw the ceremonial first pitch. Good was set to be the honorary captain. The club announced on Friday that Lou Gehrig Day has been rescheduled for June 28, when the Reds make up their postponed game against the Phillies.

“I’ve worked with people who have ALS for 10-12 years now. There’s a common characteristic there,” Good said. “Because it’s a terminal illness and because the disease takes root very quickly, there’s always this feeling of just pushing the pedal down and saying, ‘OK, this is what we want to do. Let’s go make it happen.’ That very much was the case with Adam. We’re all so proud that he gets to see this come through and be recognized in the process.”