ALS Ice Bucket Challenge hits close to home for Indians’ catcher Sanchez

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Indians catcher Tony Sanchez shows off his glove that has the initials "PF" for Pete Frates-who was the inspiration for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

INDIANAPOLIS – In all honesty, you would probably pick out his nails before the initials.

Standing in front of a couple of cameras Friday afternoon at Victory Field, a reporter asked Tony Sanchez about his fingernails which were colored in bright yellow and pink.

“It’s making sure the pitchers can see my fingers,” said the Indians’ catcher of the unique paint on his nails.

Indeed it was the most obvious thing that a casual fans might notice about his attire on this afternoon. But a closer look at his glove reveals a much deeper story–one that has created one of the biggest social media phenomenons of the year.

The first set of letters are “DK” for Dick Kelley, a former Boston College sports information director who died of ALS in 2014. Below that is “EC” for Evan Chambers, a prospect in the Pirates’ minor league system who died in his sleep in December 2013.

“That one stung. You see someone your age go to bed and not wake up and that really puts things in perspective,” said Sanchez.

Right below that is “PF.” In many ways, he’s helped many around the country put a debilitating disease into perspective.

“Pete Frates,” said Sanchez pointing to the initials. “He’s the closest to me and he’s still fighting.”

His battle is ALS and it’s gone on a global scale over the last month. Frates, a former baseball player diagnosed with the disease in 2012, was the inspiration for viral Ice Bucket Challenge that has now has millions dumping water over their head and donating to various ALS foundations.

Stars of stage and screen have joined in the campaign in which a person is supposed to post a video of themselves dunking themselves or getting dunked when challenged and then turn around and challenge someone else. If not, the person is expected to donate money to a local ALS charity.

But Frates’ initials isn’t something that was just recently added to Sanchez glove. His connection to the face of the challenge goes back to his college days at Boston College, when Frates was a mentor for then a young freshman catcher from Miami.

“It’s genuinely heartwarming for me,” said Sanchez of the attention that Frates has received during his battle against the disease. “With all the people who participate regardless of what their intentions are–there has been a lot of criticism on social media. The numbers speak for themselves.”

Over the last month, they have been staggering in a good way. Since July 29, the campaign has raised over $50 million for ALS research--a far cry from the just over $2 million raised at the same time in 2013.

In central Indiana, many are taking the challenge--including most of the Pacers including team president Larry Bird. Colts owner Jim Irsay accepted the challenge and had the ice water dumped on his head by quarterback Andrew Luck-then donated $10,000 to ALS research.

For Sanchez it's an honor for such a campaign to be associated with his former teammate, who was a captain for the Eagles baseball team in 2007 when he was just a freshman. But it was his recruiting trip to Chestnut Hill in which he remembered the strong leadership which Frates.

"Him establishing his dominance.  Me being a young kid from Miami I thought I was hot. I didn't think anyone could tell me what to do. It was kind of a rude awakening. This is not high school baseball. I'm not the big fish in the pond anymore, I'm a small fish in a big pond, especially playing in the ACC with guys a few years older than me," said Sanchez. "It was a recruiting trip so I had a lot of fun and Pete was one of the reasons why.

"But he also was also like "I'm the captain of this team. If you don't like it, you're going to have a hard time."

Sanchez and Frates got along just fine in 2007 and the former went on to be the highest MLB Draft pick in Boston College history when he was selected fourth overall by the Pirates in 2009.

Since his diagnosis with ALS in 2012, Sanchez has watched Frates as he spent his time trying hard to raise awareness and funds for the disease. As the challenge has grown, Frates condition has worsened and he is no longer able to speak.

But it hasn't stopped his attempts to still let people know the importance of finding a cure for ALS, which has culminated in the aforementioned Ice Bucket Challenge.

"It's a beautiful thing to see," said Sanchez of the support Frates has received. "No one knows how they would react if a doctor told them that they're diagnosed with a ALS. I know I would not be nearly as strong as Pete."

All he and anyone else has to be, though, is have a warm enough heart to stand a little bit of cold. Sanchez did his Ice Bucket Challenge early in the campaign--long after those initials appeared on the glove overshadowed by some creative nails.