QUINCY — They’ve been playing the 100 Innings of Baseball annually since 2004 to raise money for ALS research. It was the idea of a local amateur ballplayer named Brett Rudy, and when former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling got behind it, folks paid attention.
What is billed as the longest baseball game in the world starts at 9 a.m. at Adams Field on a gorgeous Saturday morning and ends 27 hours and 17 minutes later.
The teams are named for Walter Bentson and Rich “Ratt” Kennedy, who were both diagnosed with ALS. Bentson is an organizer and the chief umpire for the game, and Kennedy is the president of the Angel Fund for ALS Research, the charity of record.
“Lou Gehrig was diagnosed in 1939 and there is still no cure,” says Kennedy. “That drives me crazy.”
The 80 ballplayers raised more than $45,000 this year, adding to a total of $851,800 for various ALS charities.
“The score doesn’t matter,” says Bentson, who imported 80 volunteer umpires this year. “Everyone here is a winner.”
But there is no shortage of pain for missing loved ones.
Kennedy’s father died of ALS in the late 1980s, and when his youngest brother, Jimmy, later died, he knew it was genetic. In 2016, while training for his 32nd Boston Marathon, his left leg quit on him and his worst fears were realized.
He is the first person to receive an experimental gene silencing treatment, and the results are amazing. Last April, he managed to run the Boston Marathon again in 4:08.
“People say, ‘You did what?’ ” he says.
Now he offers hope to those recently diagnosed.
“I walk in and they see me looking this good and sounding this good, six years after I was diagnosed,” he says. “It’s the most encouraging thing just to see that. So much of what I’m taking didn’t exist even a couple of years ago.”
But it is not a cure.
“There are many drugs in the pipeline, so I’m cautiously optimistic,” says Dr. Bob Brown, professor of neurology at UMass Medical School, whose team has identified several ALS genes with the help of Angel Fund research grants.
“If you have an expected survivor of four years and you double it to eight years, that’s not a cure. But that’s a big difference for a young person who’s got a family.”
Bentson, who wears a Pete Frates T-shirt in honor of the late Boston College ballplayer and ALS research advocate, also considers himself lucky. He was diagnosed with a less aggressive form of ALS in 1999. He called his last game in 2006. Now it takes him 45 minutes to put on his umpire gear with the help of his wife, Mary.
But as long as he can walk, with the aid of a Louisville Slugger bat converted to a cane, Bentson will get behind the plate and umpire for one batter at midnight.
This can get dicey; although Bentson has umpired 3,114 games in various amateur leagues, he is now unsteady on his feet.
“My condition slowly deteriorates,” he says. “But I deal with it.”
Three years ago, there was a major midnight scare.
“I put my hand on the catcher and I said, ‘Please, don’t let any ball hit me, because if you do, you’ll never play another game in New England again,’ ” he said.
“The first pitch is right down the middle, the batter swings and fouls the ball straight back. The catcher instinctively stands straight up to see where the foul ball went. And I went ass over tea kettle and there was a hush over the sellout crowd of 14. It wasn’t pleasant.”
“You were fine,” says Mary. “But people were freaked out.”
This year, he holds on to nothing behind the plate.
“I suggest you throw strikes,” he tells the pitcher.
He rings up the hitter with his usual flair, and receives a standing ovation from both teams.
“There was not a dry eye in the house,” says Angie Santomauro, the only woman in the lineup. “There is a little piece of Walter in everyone here.”
Santomauro’s husband, Zach, proudly wears a Gehrig No. 4 Yankee uniform. He has an ironman mentality. That means no shut-eye. Not even a quick nap.
“Oh man, no way,” he says. “Waking up from a power nap and still needing to keep your eyes sharp for a fastball coming at you at 2 a.m., it’s just not tenable.
“You stay awake and supplement with whatever kind of caffeine or products you need to just power through. You go through all these stages of sleep deprivation, including sadness, anger, and then you come back around when the sun comes up. But stay awake, don’t give in.”
At 1:31 a.m., more than a dozen pizzas arrive. Angie Santomauro, who also manages Team Walter, shakes her head.
“Do not eat the pizza,” she says, looking up from her 23-page scorecard. “The carbs will kill you. You’ll want to nap.”
There are things here you won’t see anywhere else.
Rob Forrand, a construction worker from Halifax, threw a record 50 innings and an estimated thousand pitches.
“We’ll see tomorrow,” he says. “I’m tired. My arm feels great, the rest of me not so much. My legs, my back, they hurt. My arm never bothers me.”
He tosses 43 innings in a row, then comes back for another seven.
“I went into my car and turned the heat on because it got cold,” he says. “I just cranked the heat and laid back. I probably slept for a total of 10 minutes.”
He says losing doesn’t bother him.
“It’s not about that,” he says. “It’s about raising money for guys like Ratt and Walter. The pain that we’re going through is nothing compared to what they go through every day.”
Two players played all 100 innings on defense.
On Team Ratt, Mike Santarpio (his grandfather’s cousin is the pizza king) played every single position and every inning on defense. They call him “Pizza,” but he’s an electrician. This is his seventh charity game.
Santarpio, 34, says his knees and hips hurt. He says baseball is never boring.
“It’s a passion,” he says. “People that think it’s boring don’t have the patience to understand the strategy of it.”
Scot Leslie, a line painter on Team Walter, played center field without a break. Last year, he tracked down a fly ball in the 100th inning to preserve a 68-66 victory with the tying runs on base.
This year, he hunkers down under a blanket on a lounge chair when the temperature dips into the 40s, but he needs no motivation to contribute.
“It kind of breaks your heart,” he says. “So anything to do positively for them, I’m all about.”
Leslie went 14 for 19 in the game. What hurts?
Was it worth it?
“Oh yeah, this is the funnest baseball game you could ever go to.”
After the last out, there are slow-motion hugs and thoughts of a hot shower and a warm bed. The final score is Team Ratt 91, Team Walter 79.
“It’s events like this that make it so I’m alive today,” says Kennedy. “Thank you very much.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.