Chris McDonough, Peter Frates and Junior Medina will all be in attendance for the 20th Annual Abbot Financial Management Oldtime Baseball Game, but they all had to travel three very different paths to get there.
Just last October, McDonough got a chance to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing at Fenway Park when he pitched in the Yawkey League All-Star Game. But what was supposed to be a crowning achievement for the left-hander turned into a nightmare.
McDonough started off the day with some routine stretches, and later he took the mound ready to seize the moment. That’s when he felt a little pinch in his arm, but he thought nothing of it. He had been experiencing pain throughout his entire baseball career, so he shook it off. On the next pitch, though, that pinch turned into a broken left arm.
McDonough’s baseball-thinking mind suddenly went from focusing on his next pitch to whether or not he would ever play again.
“It was just something that came out of nowhere,” he said. “I was definitely wondering if it was going to affect just overall baseball. I could always play the field. I was hoping it wasn’t going to affect that. I can still play a little bit of first base, but that’s about it. It definitely changed my outlook on everything that had to do with baseball.”
As it turned out, the Weymouth, Mass., native and former Wheaton College pitcher was able to keep playing baseball in the Yawkey League as a designated hitter for the Al Thomas Athletics. And now he will get a chance to don a flannel Cienfuegos Elefantes’ jersey and play in the Oldtime Baseball Game, which will take place at St. Peter’s Field in Cambridge, Mass., at 7 p.m. on Aug. 21 and benefit the Scleroderma Foundation of New England, as a pinch hitter.
McDonough could look at his situation and wonder what could’ve been, since he won’t be pitching in his first Oldtime Baseball Game, but he has decided to take a positive approach and make the most of his opportunity at the plate.
“I think it’s great. I’ll be up there swinging,” he said.
Frates also had a life-changing experience in 2012. The former Boston College player learned that he had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease as it’s commonly referred to, which has now confined him to a wheelchair.
But while ALS has taken away his ability to walk, it will never get near his love of baseball. The Beverly, Mass., native is now a director of operations for the Eagles, and he took part in last year’s Oldtime Baseball Game as a player. This year he is back, and this time he will serve as a coach during the game.
Being able to coach in a game like this means a lot to Frates, who has a deep-rooted respect for the history of the sport he loves.
“When Steve [Buckley] asked me to be a part of it last year, I was so excited and honored to be asked, because like Steve I have such a respect for the game, where it’s come from,” he said. “And this game every year celebrates the game’s roots, and the way the game is supposed to be played. Every year now I look forward to it.”
Another player who is looking forward to playing in the game is Medina, who will be one of many former players returning for the 20th anniversary. However, the main reason for the former Stonehill player’s return is that he will be honored with the fourth annual Greg Montalbano Award.
Montalbano played in the 1997 and ’98 games before he was drafted by Boston. He was named the Red Sox’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2001, and he played a total of six seasons. He died in 2009 at the age of 31 after he lost a battle with cancer. Now, an award is given out in his honor to a former player “who best exemplifies Greg’s spirit, competitiveness and good nature,” according to the game’s press release.
Medina, who played in the Oldtime Baseball game in 2000 and ’01, will now return to play in the outfield, as he has decided to keep up the tradition of playing in the game after receiving the award. He will also honor Montalbano by wearing the 1926 St. Louis Cardinals jersey he wore in 1998, which has also become a custom.
As someone who knew Montalbano, he is very honored to receive the award.
“Being friends with Greg — for what it stands for, for wearing the uniform, coming back and playing, coming out of retirement to come play again — those are the fun things,” he said. “But the first thing that comes up is playing with Greg in the Cape League. People cross your path for a reason, and we ended up being put in front of each other in the Cape League and playing for the same team, the Orleans Cardinals [now the Firebirds].
“We got to know each other pretty well, and that was before he got diagnosed. Once he did get diagnosed, we were still real good friends, helping out with clinics, still playing baseball. For what he stands for, being a good person, that’s a huge thing.”
Their paths to the Oldtime Baseball Game may have been different, but come Aug. 21, these three men will wear their vintage jerseys with pride for a game that means the world to them.