SAN DIEGO — Major League Baseball invited Pete Frates to attend Game 2 of the 2014 World Series in Kansas City so he could further raise awareness about ALS.
Frates was all for it, but didn’t feel well a few days before. Instead of scrapping the trip, he asked MLB if his family could attend instead.
They turned it into a surprise, Pete and his wife, Julie, making the arrangements then springing it on his parents, brother, and sister.
The Frates were honored on the field before commissioner Bud Selig presented them with a sterling silver ice bucket to commemorate the ALS fund-raising initiative that Pete helped to popularize nationally.
Rob Manfred, who had been named to succeed Selig as commissioner, made sure the Frates were treated like celebrities that night.
Through some mutual friends from Boston College, Manfred had gotten to know John and Nancy Frates on a personal level. What they were enduring as a family was something never far from his mind.
When Pete died Monday, his courageous battle ending at age 34, Manfred felt the same loss so many of us did in the Boston area.
“It’s a really sad day for baseball,” he said. “Pete was an inspiration and I was so impressed with how devoted his parents were to him and how gracefully they handled what was a tragedy. They were always so positive.
“What a special family. The more we got to know him, we saw that.”
Pete’s story always had baseball as one of its core elements.
He was BC’s captain and one of the team’s best hitters. When Daisuke Matsuzaka made his celebrated spring training debut with the Red Sox in 2007, Pete was one of the Boston College hitters who faced him.
The diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis came in 2012 and Pete threw out a first pitch at Fenway Park that season. When the Sox won their surprise championship a year later, Pete was a regular presence around the ballpark, just like he was at TD Garden and Gillette Stadium. But it was never in a maudlin way. He didn’t want you to feel sorry for him.
“Pete made everybody around him comfortable,” former Red Sox manager John Farrell said Monday. “What an example of courage. He took a dire situation and made the most of it.”
Pete was a character. He’d crack jokes with the Sox players, particularly Will Middlebrooks and David Ross. It came naturally; he was one of them.
“Baseball was the common thread,” Farrell said. “Pete had this deadly disease and he tore those barriers down. He was himself, self-deprecating and funny. That’s what I will remember.”
The Sox signed Pete to a minor league contract in 2015 and whenever there was a big celebration at Fenway, you could count on him being there. His family knew how to navigate that wheelchair through Fenway.
John, Nancy, Julie, Pete’s daughter Lucy, his brother Andrew, and sister Jennifer were there for everything. The World Series games, David Ortiz’s retirement ceremony, they found a way.
When Alex Cora became manager, he learned quickly who Pete was and what he meant to so many people.
“Not only to the organization and the city, but to the world. That was amazing,” Cora said. “It was unreal. A bucket of ice water, everybody was doing it. Raising money, the awareness. Just a simple act.
“We talk about superheroes without capes. That was what he was.”
Pete was part of the Sox, a member of the family. It wasn’t something honorary or contrived. It was real.
“We’re going to do everything humanly possible in the days, months, years, decades ahead to honor the legacy he left us,” Red Sox president Sam Kennedy said. “He represented what Boston is all about, true grit and toughness.
“As his father, John, said many times, you never heard him complain about the illness. He wanted to try and take that diagnosis and turn it into a positive.”
It was coincidental — or maybe it was just fitting — that a large group of MLB media-relations officials gathered Monday morning at the Winter Meetings to promote a fund-raising project to benefit ALS charities.
Via their websites, all 30 teams are auctioning off one-of-a-kind experiences with players or at their ballparks.
It was just a short time later the news got around that Pete was gone.
“He outlived every expectation,” Farrell said. “That’s a legacy that will live on. He’s not ever going to be forgotten.”