For all that he's associated with Boston College, there's always a part of me that remembers Pete Frates for his time before he wore maroon and gold.
It was 2003, and it was the greatest high school baseball game in Massachusetts state history. In the Division I North sectional semifinal, St. John's Prep took on Peabody. In the private school's corner stood Frates along with Rich Sirois and Larry Day, both of whom played at UConn. Joining them was Matt Antonelli, a player who would star for Wake Forest and be chosen by San Diego as the 17th overall pick of the 2006 MLB Entry Draft.
Opposing them for the Tanners stood Bryan Garrity and Ryan Moorer, two guys who go onto Division I careers with UMass and Maryland, respectively. On the mound was Jeff Allison, chosen just a few days earlier by the Florida Marlins as the 16th overall selection and the consensus high school player of the year. It was a titan matchup between the state's baseball powers.
To this day, it still stands as one of the most talked-about high school baseball games. Allison threw 156 pitches and gave up nine hits - one more than he allowed the whole season combined to that point. He also stole home in a controversial play where, depending on your perspective, he should or shouldn't have been called out for not doing enough to avoid a collision. It was the difference in a 2-1 Tanner victory over the Prep.
It was one of the first things I brought up when I had the chance to speak with Pete's father, John, a couple of weeks ago. Because the game against the Prep had been delayed by a day because of sprinkler issues, Peabody had to play the very next day in the Division I North final. They lost that game to Malden Catholic - my Malden Catholic - who would eventually win the Massachusetts state championship.
What I'll never forget was how St. John's Prep wanted Allison, a flamethrower who could touch 95 at the age of 18. They wanted to climb the mountain against the toughest. They didn't want the easy way out, and they would fight, claw, and battle with you every step of the way. If you were going to beat them, you were going to earn it.
Four years after his ALS diagnosis, that's exactly the type of person Pete Frates is. From the moment a doctor told him he had the disease, he's been fighting it with everything inside of him. His teammates - family, friends, BC's entire Birdball community - are fighting it with everything inside of them. Everyone is clawing for every inch, making sure that ALS doesn't win without the biggest fight it's ever dealt with. And like a baseball game where one team's given it all, even if it wins this round, it's not going to win much longer than that.
ALS can take away a person's physical attributes. It can rob a person of the things they used to do. But it can never touch a person's spirit. On Saturday, we're going to honor a spirit that's never been and never will be impacted by raising, as one BC community, Pete's #3 to Shea Field. In a way, Pete's example is something we've followed, and his number retirement is a reminder to never quit, to never give up, and to never, ever go down without a fight.
This is a fight that we're all a part of, and we'll reaffirm that fight this weekend. That's what Birdball is all about. It's about the community, the fact that Pete is as much of a part of our team as we are a part of his. Regardless of the uniform, we're all in this together, with one goal to make ALS history. The goal is simple - to one day stop playing ALS Awareness Games because this disease is something that's in the past.
This weekend is about reaffirming our fight for Pete. It's about sharing memories of the past, and it's about creating new memories in the present. It's about knowing that every day, we move one step closer to defeating ALS just by showing up to the fight.
This is the highest honor someone can have in sports, to have their number retired. It means you live forever in greatness. It's a symbol of what you stood for as a person, what you represented to the team's community. It's the ultimate representation of respect for all that you've accomplished, all that you were put here on this Earth to do. More often than not, it goes deeper than accomplishments on the field and it's shared by all those whose lives have been touched by the person honored with the symbol itself.
Just as when his team fought for a high school tournament win, just as when his team fought for Beanpot wins, and just as when we all fight ALS together, this weekend is about what all of us can succeed when we stand together, as a community and as a team. With Pete as our inspiration, never let that go. He will never have to stand alone as we shout and cheer, loudly, that we're ready for the next 95 mph fastball life's going to throw.