On Lou Gehrig Day, Mets show Sarah Langs that baseball loves her back

A writer and researcher for MLB.com, Langs has worked to raise ALS awareness

June 3rd, 2023

NEW YORK -- An hour and a half before she was scheduled to take the field for a ceremony Friday at Citi Field, Sarah Langs was concerned.

Langs had spent the better part of her afternoon being feted by the Mets, who hosted her and her family in recognition of Lou Gehrig Day. But there was a problem. Shohei Ohtani was slated to start for the Angels in Houston at 8 p.m. ET, exactly when Langs was due to be in the Citi Field stands watching the Mets take on the Blue Jays. Langs, an MLB.com writer and researcher and longtime ESPN statistician, had never missed any of Ohtani’s previous 74 starts. She was debating bringing her laptop to her seat.

That is typical Langs, whose favorite phrase -- “Baseball is the best!” -- has become so well-known that the company RotoWear emblazoned it on a T-shirt, sold it in bulk and raised more than $57,000 for Project ALS to put toward research. When Red Sox and Rays writers arrived at Fenway Park on Friday to cover that night’s game, they found the Red Sox had left a T-shirt at each of their seats.

Earlier this year, Langs’ close friend and fellow MLB.com writer Mandy Bell created a GoFundMe that raised another $105,000 for ALS research. Langs subsequently created the “Fist Bump Challenge” to generate additional awareness. This week, MLB launched a Lou Gehrig Day auction featuring a signed bat from all 30 teams -- Langs chose the players for their connections to ALS -- to raise additional funds.

These sorts of things have become the norm since Langs was diagnosed with ALS -- “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” -- in 2021.

“She’s impacting the disease, just as you’d think Sarah would,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said. “She’s trying to make an impact every day that she’s with us. And she is.”

Showalter grew to know Langs from their mutual time at ESPN, when she busied herself uncovering nuggets to brighten the network’s Sunday Night Baseball broadcasts. Before meeting Langs, Showalter said, employees at the network used to send statistical queries to the Elias Sports Bureau. Quickly, those requests changed to: “Ask Sarah.”

“People had all these printouts and everything. She was the printout,” Showalter said. “She was brilliant. Still is. I think everybody that has been able to have come in contact with her feels lucky to have had her pass their way.”

When Showalter found Langs and her family on the field before batting practice on Friday, he presented her with a bat signed by the entire Mets team. Within moments, the two were talking about Coors Field and the Rockies’ disadvantage in developing pitchers at altitude. That is Langs in her element.

The rest of it -- the pregame ceremony, the interviews, the time in Steve and Alex Cohen’s suite -- is not. Often, Langs has spoken about how uncomfortable it is for her to be the center of attention. She relented after her diagnosis, because she became convinced that she could use her position to create a newfound understanding of ALS.

“So much of it is about awareness and about the idea that this isn’t a rare disease,” Langs said. “It’s just an underfunded one. When people think of ALS, they think of Lou Gehrig -- who, by the way, isn’t even your typical case. He was young, by most standards. Most people are in their 50s [when they are diagnosed], and more males than females, and so on and so forth. So hopefully people are very motivated when they see that it can also get me.

“I am trying to bring that message, because I think people realizing just how common it is also helps people realize that it’s pretty ridiculous we don’t have a cure for it yet.”

Through Langs’ work, that message is spreading. During a rain delay Friday at Citi Field, Alex Cohen presented Langs with a $10,000 grant for Project ALS. Eventually, Langs emerged onto the field to watch her longtime boyfriend, Matt Williams, throw out the ceremonial first pitch for her. Williams, an ESPN producer working on the NBA Finals, had flown across the country from Denver to be by her side. When his pitch sailed well wide of Eduardo Escobar, Langs broke into peals of laughter.

Eduardo Escobar gives Sarah Langs his cap following a ceremonial first pitch from Langs’ boyfriend, Matt Williams (Photo credit: Mets)

Then Escobar posed for a picture and, before leaving, placed his Mets cap on her head.

“The fact that baseball seems to love me back is not the goal,” Langs said. “It’s not what I set out to do. It was never the point of any of this. But I’m starting to process the idea that apparently it is true. And I think that is really the highlight, is realizing that maybe I am sort of part of the game in that way as well.”