'Not alone in this fight': Two profound first pitches on Lou Gehrig Day

Steve Gleason, family of Chris Snow on hand to raise awareness for ALS

June 2nd, 2024

SEATTLE -- They sat in silence alongside nearly 50,000 who were all roaring, mostly unable to speak due to limitations caused by a disease that had so greatly impacted their lives. They shared an identifiable understanding about each other and a gentle compassion of what the other was going through. Because they are among the finite who could.

There’s a touching picture that captured this moment between Chris Snow and Steve Gleason, taken from the stands at last year’s All-Star Game in Seattle. Both were suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and at T-Mobile Park, along with MLB.com’s Sarah Langs, who’s also battling the disease, for the Midsummer Classic.

The frame, captured by Chris’ wife, Kelsie, shows Gleason spectating from in his wheelchair, as Snow rests his right arm across his body onto Gleason’s right hand.

“I just remember Chris saying how much he was going to miss Steve when we left that weekend,” Kelsie said.

Not even a year later, Chris is no longer here. The father of Cohen and Willa and husband to Kelsie passed away last September after his long battle with ALS. He was 42.

As Major League Baseball on Sunday commemorated the fourth annual Lou Gehrig Day -- named after one of the greatest players in history who passed away from ALS on June 2, 1941 -- the Mariners invited Gleason and the Snows back to T-Mobile Park for a special pregame ceremony.

Gleason’s ties to the Pacific Northwest go back to his childhood roots in Spokane, Wash. He stayed for college, becoming a baseball and football star at Washington State University before playing seven seasons in the NFL. Snow’s ties to baseball go back to his days as a Red Sox beat writer at the Boston Globe, before he went into hockey and eventually became the assistant general manager of the NHL’s Calgary Flames. They met through longtime baseball executive Theo Epstein, who was instrumental in arranging their visit during last year’s All-Star Week.

On Sunday, Gleason was invited to take part in Sunday’s ceremonial first pitch. He was encouraged to invite someone or a group to join him.

He reached out to Kelsie. He wanted Cohen and Willa to share the moment.

“It’s not an adequate word to say that Steve is inspiring,” Kelsie said. “But Steve is one of the most genuine and loving people that I’ve ever come across. He was our beacon of how you can continue on with this disease, even when it’s taken away so very much from you. We looked to Steve to say, ‘Steve is still a dad. Steve still sees so much beauty and joy in life.’”

The Snow children truly relished the moment, even with some competitive fire. Cohen launched from the rubber and easily made it into the glove of Luke Raley, who was catching; Willa delivered an underhand softball pitch, both evoking big roars.

Also part of the ceremony, longtime Mariners fan and passionate ALS advocate Mike McCready of Pearl Jam performed the national anthem, with his iconic electric guitar echoing all the louder caused by the park’s enclosed roof.

“What I’m always trying to talk to the kids about is the duality of emotions,” Kelsie said. “Today is going to feel sad at a lot of times, and today is going to feel happy at a lot of points. And that’s something that’s not ever going to change, and that that’s OK.

“And the other thing that I want them to see today is that people haven’t forgotten their dad, and that they’re not alone in this fight. There are a whole lot of people working hard to remember their person or to try to raise awareness so that nobody else has to lose somebody they love to this disease.”

Kelsie began publicly chronicling Chris’ battle with ALS shortly after the family shared his diagnosis in 2019, in a valiant endeavor to raise awareness. She’s continued to share the family’s story after his passing, which has also created a space for those coping with grief, with a podcast called “Sorry, I’m Sad.”

Gleason is a 2020 recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal for his fight to raise ALS awareness and improve the lives of its patients through the efforts of his foundation, Team Gleason.

As special as Sunday’s pregame moment was in Seattle, and in many ways was a remembrance of Chris, the most important component for Gleason and the Snows is to continue the conversation -- and continue to fight for a cure.