They all wore No. 3, and every player on the Boston Red Sox and Boston College had the same name on their jersey, too.
This exhibition game at JetBlue Park on Tuesday was all about Pete Frates.
Frates had that number when he played center field at Boston College. Now 30, the man who helped inspire the Ice Bucket Challenge is stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS.
Unable to speak, walk or move his arms, Frates couldn’t make it from his Boston home for this seven-inning game, which the Red Sox won 1-0.
Both teams lined up for a pregame ceremony, and the exhibition was played as a fundraiser for the Pete Frates No. 3 Fund. The jerseys will be auctioned.
“Pete’s health is deteriorating,” said his wife, Julie Kowalik.
The couple’s 7-month-old daughter, Lucy, and Frates’ parents joined her at the ballpark.
“I think it means more than I ever felt it would to physically be here for him,” Kowalik said. “Honestly, for him to see Lucy on this field might be one of the greatest joys of his lifetime.”
“We’re so excited to be here and Lucy, she’s taking part in her first spring training. I’m sure it’s the first of many,” she said.
As Kowalik chatted before the game on the field in front of the first base dugout, she was surrounded by dozens of baseball players wearing her husband’s jerseys.
“I just spoke to him before we got here and I’m sending him pictures of Lucy,” she said. “He’s so happy for her to be here. For her to be here probably means more than for him to be here.”
When he was at Boston College, Frates played against the Red Sox in spring training.
Returning to Fort Myers to see BC take on the Red Sox brought back memories for Nancy Frates, Pete’s mother. He first played against the Red Sox in 2004 and by 2007 he was a senior and team captain.
“I have to say this morning I started to reflect on 2004, which was Pete’s first year down here and the excitement,” she said.
“He was a freshman and being in the old Fort Myers ballpark, and just how the Red Sox, even back in 2004, were so inclusive and so welcoming of the BC families. And to have this and for this to happen is completely overwhelming and we’re honored and we’re just full of gratitude,” he said.
Frates very much remains a part of the Boston College baseball family. The school’s baseball media guide lists him as Director of Baseball Operations, a job he’s held since 2012.
Boston College coach Mike Gambino said the current players know Frates well.
“He’s been with this team for five straight years and these boys are so close to him.” Gambino said.
The Red Sox have also become close to Frates.
“What an honor it is for the Red Sox to be able to salute someone who has so magnificently changed the world,” Red Sox executive vice president Charles Steinberg said.
“I think people embraced the cause and to do so was enhanced by our having known him for years and knowing that it was his desire to turn a tragic illness into a force for good,” he said.
Gambino said he’s learned a great deal from Frates.
“He has taught me so much about not just helping coach young men but to help raise young men,” Gambino said. “It’s about winning baseball games, but it’s also about raising young men.”
Gambino said Frates still communicates with Boston College coaches and players.
“We talk just about every over the computer about what’s going on with the club,” Gambino said. “He’s also taught me what true leadership is.”
Boston College second baseman Blake Butera, a team captain, also is in regular contact with Frates.
“He just cares about this program as much as anyone else,” Butera said. “He’s always following us, always checking in. He’s texting or messaging us on Facebook or emailing. He wants to be a part of it.”
Said Steinberg: “For someone who isn’t fully communicative because of this disease you can still feel his passion when you look in his eyes.”
“They still communicate,” he said.