SAN DIEGO -- Pete Frates, the former Boston College baseball captain who inspired millions with his fight against ALS, died at the age of 34, his family announced on Monday.
It was Frates who spawned the Ice Bucket Challenge five years ago, which raised over $200 million for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
“Today Heaven received our angel: Peter Frates,” the family said in a statement released to Boston College. “A husband to Julie, a father to Lucy, a son to John and Nancy, a brother to Andrew and Jennifer, Pete passed away surrounded by his loving family, peacefully at age 34, after a heroic battle with ALS.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred issued the following statement regarding the passing of Frates:
“The courage and determination of Pete Frates inspired countless people throughout the game he loved and around the world. He galvanized ALS awareness for a new generation and honored the memory of a fellow ballplayer, Lou Gehrig. All of us at Major League Baseball are proud that Pete and his family are members of the baseball family. We will forever remember Pete’s example as we continue to support the pursuit of a cure for ALS.”
The Red Sox felt a close connection to Frates as he valiantly battled his disease.
“Never in the history of baseball have we seen a person’s efforts outside of the game gain him a professional baseball contract and a home in the National Baseball Hall of Fame,” Red Sox principal owner John Henry said in a statement. “Such was the enormity of Pete Frates’ impact. His efforts will not only be felt in the labs of ALS researchers across the country, but also within the walls of Fenway Park, where his spirit will remain with us, always."
Red Sox chairman Tom Werner added: “While battling one of the world’s darkest diseases, Pete taught us how undaunted optimism can lay the groundwork to inspire a revolutionary movement. He did more to raise awareness for ALS during his lifetime than anyone in the past eighty years since Lou Gehrig delivered his 'Luckiest Man' speech."
ALS, which causes the death of neurons to voluntary muscles, has always had a tie-in to baseball dating back to 1939, when Yankees legend Gehrig received his diagnosis soon before his emotional retirement.
A native of Beverly, Mass., Frates had the thrill of hitting a home run at Fenway during his college career. Though Frates never realized his dream of playing for the Red Sox, he was a fixture at Fenway and in the Boston community over the past few years, and the Red Sox presented him with a professional contract in 2015. He learned that he had ALS in '12.
In the near decade that Frates fought the disease, he actively raised awareness in hopes there can one day be a cure.
Of the many things Frates did to champion a cure for ALS, nothing resonated more than the Ice Bucket Challenge, which took place in the summer of 2014 and swiftly launched at ballparks, office buildings, backyards and virtually any venue one could think of.
One person would dump a bucket of ice on another and post it on social media, and challenge someone else to do it. Through the shivers, there was laughter and unity, as so many groups of people -- many of them A-list celebrities -- joined forces for the cause.
It was just as Frates wanted it -- yet more than he ever could have imagined.
On Aug. 14, 2014, Frates went to Fenway Park and got doused himself in the Ice Bucket Challenge. With the Green Monster just a few feet behind him, Frates was surrounded by his family and members of the Red Sox, including manager John Farrell, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, catcher David Ross and third baseman Will Middlebrooks.
During batting practice that day, Sox legend David Ortiz greeted Frates and his family and posed for pictures.
“It's been overwhelming in such a positive way," Nancy Frates, Pete's mother, told MLB.com that day. "Pete set this as his mission the day he was diagnosed. He said, 'I'm going to change the face of this disease.' My son has been taken from just a little bit every day for the past two and a half years. But to see his mission almost be complete -- now it's the research, treatment and cure. The awareness is raising the funding. The funding will now raise research, and hopefully a treatment and cure."
Frates is survived by his wife, Julie, and five-year-old daughter, Lucy, as well his parents, John and Nancy, and siblings, Andrew and Jenifer.
“Behind every Red Sox fan, there’s a story,” Red Sox president/CEO Sam Kennedy said. “We are so very proud that Pete’s story led him through Fenway Park as a player, and later, as an icon and member of our family. His legacy will affect generations of ALS patients nationwide, and his courage will be remembered by all of us. We were privileged to have known him, and honored that he was part of our team.”