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Saturday, April 18, 2015

One more (new) reason to love and respect Pedro Martinez

Cherington gets his man. (Getty Images)

The ceremony honoring former Boston College centerfielder and "Ice Bucket Challenge" pioneer Peter Frates before Monday's home opener at Fenway Park was a wonderful touch by Red Sox management, as Frates signed a professional baseball contract with Sox GM Ben Cherington to the delight of a packed house. 

Actually, it was Pete's wife, Julie, who signed the contract. Frates can no longer write due to the ALS that has ravaged his body, but that didn't stop him from smiling while the crowd roared its approval.

There was just one problem with the event, and it came when the long line of current Red Sox players passed by Frates' wheelchair with autographed jerseys. The jerseys, each of them bearing the #3 Frates  wore at BC, had been donned by the team during a spring training game with the Eagles.

While the Sox contingent exchanged hugs, handshakes, and kind words with Julie and others in Pete's family, the man of the hour was seated a few feet back and below eye level from the players. As a result, he had no contact with most of them as they quickly walked by. Rather than hand him their #3 jerseys or drape them across or near his wheelchair, the players were instructed to place them on a table far to his right.

My wife, who has worked with paralyzed patients in wheelchairs for 25 years, noticed this right away. "Somebody should really have put him in better position, and shown those guys how to approach him," Michelle said. 

Even Ortiz looked unsure around Frates. 

She added that the players were likely nervous, unsure whether they would hurt the now-frail Frates if they were to reach out, so most played it safe by keeping their distance.  A few touched a hand to his shoulder, but the well-meaning gestures seemed tentative. 

I was beginning to wish Michelle had not pointed this all out to me when suddenly the roar of the crowd went up several notches. Emerging from the Boston dugout was one more player wishing to pay his respect to Frates -- legendary pitcher and new Hall of Fame inductee Pedro Martinez.

Waving to the crowd, his smile as broad as the guest of honor's, Martinez approached the Frates family and paused to talk with and hug each of them. He took his time, and the exchanges seemed much more poignant than the hurried embraces from the conga line of players that had come before.

First Pete's family gets a hello.

Then Pedro neared Frates' wheelchair. He leaned over, spoke a few words, and grabbed Pete in a bear hug. There was no hesitation -- just respect and love for a fellow ballplayer.

As I watched the scene unfold, I thought back a couple years to when members of the 2004 World Series champion Red Sox visited patients at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Although all of the players were a hit in the clinics, Martinez had a sincere warmth and playfulness about him that delighted kids and adults alike. 

Now, in front of 37,000 people, he was at it again -- showing compassion to a man facing a a frightening future.

Like Lou Gehrig, for whom ALS gained its second name, Pete Frates most certainly got a tough break. But at that moment, in the arms of a legend, he felt like the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

Nice job, Pedro.


  1. What a great story. Well written and so insightful. Thank you!

    1. Thanks Paul -- it was a very special moment for sure. Keep reading!