On July 4th, 1939, Lou Gehrig took the field at Yankee Stadium to deliver his infamous “Luckiest Man on Face of the Earth” speech. He’d been diagnosed with ALS only weeks before, and two days later, had announced his retirement from baseball. At only thirty-six years old, Gehrig had been told he was going to die from a disease that had no cure. The same is true almost eighty years later.
Last night, a hodgepodge group of baseball players gathered together to continue fighting the disease that claimed Gehrig’s life and thousands more. Since 1994, the Oldtime Baseball Game has raised money for important causes, medical centers, and diseases, including AIDS, Diabetes, Crohn’s Disease, and ALS. Teams included everyone from college players to Jordan Leandre to Yankee legend Yogi Berra’s granddaughter Lindsay to Red Sox players Lou Merloni and Pedro Martinez, all garbed in uniforms revived from games long over. The 9-inning game at St. Peter’s field in Cambridge ended with a win for the home team and thousands of dollars raised for the John Martin Fund and ALS Therapy Development Institute.
Pedro with longtime NESN videographer John Martin, who is currently fighting ALS
Let’s put aside the stats, the hits, the two scoreless innings thrown by a still-powerful Pedro, and talk about the bigger picture. Before the game, Pedro reminded us to “remember why we’re here,” and that’s what I want to talk about.
Sports has held a special place in our society and culture since ancient times. From the Olympics in Greece to the Major Leagues today and everything in between, sports allow us to root for something bigger than ourselves and escape the mundanity and stress of our individual lives. And there’s no denying that we look up to the athletes who play in them; we deify and idolize these humans, sometimes to an unhealthy point. Often, athletes get a free pass when they disappoint us, on and off the field. It’s a sad truth that outside of the games they play, our heroes aren’t always who they should be.
“Remember why we’re here” – Pedro gives a pre-game pep talk
But last night, those of us who sat at St. Peter’s field in Cambridge got to see athletes playing for the greater good. They laced up their cleats, picked up their bats, and swung the ball as if a hit would knock ALS out of the park of life for good. This was no Major League ballpark or Major League money, but this event brought people together for a cause, and in doing so, gave a higher meaning to a simple ballgame.
Sports are just games. They’re fantasy, escape, and wish-fulfillment. The sad truth is that when the game is over, we all have to go back into the real world where war and disease rage on every day. But when you play the game for a real reason, when you use it to promote a cause, you not only give people a moment of hope: you progress towards a better reality as well.
That’s what Pedro meant when he said that we should remember why we’re here. When you’re put on a pedestal, you have a responsibility. It’s not just about the games, the spotlight, the money, the celebrity; we all have a duty as human beings to make the world a better place, and to fight for what is right and what is important, beyond any game. And athletes have a platform and a voice louder than most to shine their spotlight on things that truly matter, like they did last night. Last night wasn’t about runs or strikes; it was about finding a cure for a terrible disease and helping good people. What a win.
Donate to the John Martin Fund here and the ALS Therapy Development Institute here to help find a cure for ALS