Pete Frates

Pete Frates should be named Sports Illustrated’s 2014 Sportsman Of The Year.

There. I said it. Many have thought the same thing. Now, it’s time to spread the word.

A 29-year-old man from Beverly, Mass., who hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass, stolen a base, blocked a 100 mph slapshot or performed any other athletic endeavor you can think of this year, is the most deserving person for one of sports’ highest honors.

Why? Glad you asked.

Pete Frates, who has battled Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) for 32 months now, has put a face to a vicious disease that few knew about. He has been front-and-center educating folks about the illness and the need to raise money in order to find a cure for this awful killer.

Pete Frates has inspired people across the globe with his bravery, honesty, sense of humor and resolve to live every day to the fullest. He inspired this summer’s remarkable "Ice Bucket Challenge" that had millions dumping (you guessed it) ice water over their heads as a show of unity and resolve, and to help raise money to fight the disease.

Those taking the challenge stretched across all walks of life, from Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs to Justin Bieber. Its popularity reached unheard-of proportions.

Pete Frates, as a three-sport star at St. John’s Prep, was a team captain and leader among his peers - a guy who loved the locker room atmosphere. His exuberance for athletics was overflowing; it rubbed off on his teammates and coaches, and it was on full display every time he put on a navy blue-and-white Prep uniform.

Pete Frates' first love was baseball, and the slugging center fielder was good enough to play in Division 1 at Boston College. He spent four seasons with the Eagles, captained the squad in 2007 and set a school mark with eight RBI (including a grand slam and three-run dinger) in one game against Maryland.

Pete Frates memorably homered — over the right field fence, mind you — in the college baseball Beanpot tournament at Fenway Park. He tied for the BC team lead in home runs in 2006 and 2007.

Pete Frates, when learning he had ALS in March 2012, decided then that he wasn’t going down without a fight. Make that a Muhammad Ali-at-the-top-of-his-game fight.

With the help of his salt-of-the-earth family — dad John, mom Nancy, sister Jen, brother Andrew, girlfriend (now wife) Julie and countless others — he committed to finding out everything he could about the disease, known as Lou Gehrig's disease, and what his "Team Frate Train" could do to help make others aware. In this world, there are wonderful people, there are caring people ... and then there is the Frates family.

Pete Frates' extended family — the St. John’s Prep and Boston College communities, and the city of Beverly and North Shore region as a whole — rallied around him and showed an outpouring of love rarely seen these days. It’s George Bailey stuff.

Pete Frates inspired not only ice buckets but people traveling the world to wear "Frate Train Traveling Tees" - taking pictures of themselves as they went - in support of the fight against ALS.

They’ve run road races (including marathons), played in charity baseball games and jumped into the frozen waters off Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester days after Christmas - all to help his cause.

Pete Frates has won the embrace of the sporting community, opening his fight and ALS awareness to entirely new groups of people. He has been recognized by Boston College, the Boston Red Sox, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers and Major League Baseball (at the World Series, no less), to name a few.

Pete Frates shot down the snooty notion among academics that athletics couldn’t play a part in the healing process. Pete has needed sports more than ever during this time — and it has needed him.

Pete Frates is a man’s man who still loves boats, his Boston teams and sports. The disease has robbed him of the ability to walk, talk or move his muscles, but his mind remains as sharp as Clayton Kershaw’s curveball.

Pete Frates has made men (including this one) and women cry for the resolve and I’m-never-giving-in attitude that he shows every day.

Pete Frates - a chiseled 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, with wrists like coils of rope during his playing days - is now confined to a wheelchair. But he's stronger than he probably even realizes.

Pete Frates has kept living his life. His beautiful daughter, two-month old Lucy, is proof of that.

The popular choice for SI’s award might be Derek Jeter, and it’d be hard to argue. The recently retired Yankee shortstop epitomized class and grace during a 20-year  baseball career. He was beloved by millions of fans and respected by Yankees-haters.

But during his final big league game, played at Fenway Park, whom did Jeter himself invite onto the field during a pre-game ceremony honoring the Yankee captain? Pete Frates.

That should tell you something.

Do the right thing, SI.  Make Pete Frates your 2014 Sportsman of the Year.

Phil Stacey is sports editor of The Salem News. Contact him at pstacey@salemnews.com or follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.

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