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MLB.com Columnist

Lindsay Berra

Garb aside, ALS fundraiser game a worthy cause

Garb aside, ALS fundraiser game a worthy cause

Never in a million years did I think I would put on a Red Sox uniform. My good friend Steve Buckley, though, had other plans.

Buck is a columnist for the Boston Herald and is the longtime organizer of the Oldtime Baseball Game, which has been played at St. Peter's Field on Sherman Street in North Cambridge, Mass., every August since 1994. The game is simply a celebration of baseball, for which players don uniforms from the Oldtime Game's vast collection of flannels that represent nearly every era of baseball history -- from the Boston Braves and Brooklyn Dodgers to the Kansas City Monarchs and Cienfuegos Elephantes. There is even a uniform from the fictional New York Knights, for whom Robert Redford's iconic character Roy Hobbs played in the movie "The Natural."

The uniforms all have one thing in common: they're huge. And I am not.

So when I arrived in Boston, Buck gestured to the piles of uniforms that had taken over his living room and said, "You're welcome to try on whatever you want, but I'm pretty sure the only uniform that's going to fit you is that one."

He pointed to a uniform he had set aside: a home Red Sox uniform that was, in fact, considerably smaller than all of the others: pants and belt worn by Eddie Pellagrini, a Sox infielder from the 1950s who went on to coach at Boston College, who was 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds. A jersey emblazoned with Johnny Pesky's No. 6. Pesky was also fit for someone 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, but the jersey had also happened to have shrunk a bit in the wash.

Buck says he was being practical, but I'm sure this was all part of his master plan to get Yogi Berra's granddaughter (that's me) and the first female to ever play in the Oldtime Baseball Game into a Sox uniform in front of a couple thousand people.

But still, the Red Sox? My first thought was, "If I wear this thing, do I automatically get stoned when I drive back over the New York border? May God and Grampa Yogi forgive me." So I tried on the uniform. The pants fit like too-big pajamas and I could put them on without unbuttoning them, but they would do. I sent a picture to my brother in Jersey to show Grampa. He loved Pesky, so his only response was, "Oh, old Needle Nose. He was a good guy." Absolution? Not necessarily. But close enough.

The fact that this year's Oldtime Game was a dual fundraiser for the ALS Therapy Development Institute and the Pete Frates #3 Fund made that Sox uniform a lot easier to wear. Frates, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2012 at the age of 27, is the former captain of the Boston College baseball team, and if you haven't heard of him over the last month, you've likely been living under a rock. It was Frates and his pals who started the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money and awareness for ALS, and as of Monday afternoon pregame, the whole campaign had raised a staggering $80 Million for ALS research.

Frates, who can no longer speak and is confined to a wheelchair, was at the game, along with his father, John; mother, Nancy; and wife, Julie, who is expecting their first child in just about two weeks. While the Game's rosters are typically filled out by former college and pro players from the Boston area, this year's game was meant to serve as a reunion of sorts for Frates and his baseball pals. Frates' younger brother Andrew played in the game, along with dozens of Frates' teammates from St. John's Prep in Danvers, Mass., B.C. and other teams he played for in the Boston area. Frates was in the dugout with the home team all night, having a blast as part of the team, and his high school teammate Tommy Haugh wore a road Lou Gehrig uniform in the game.

"One more time, Pete gets to play with all his buddies from all walks of life, and the fact three Major Leaguers are going to be out here representing the team is great," said Pete's father John Frates.

The big leaguers were former Red Sox infielder Lou Merloni, former Padres infielder Matt Antonelli and former Red Sox pitcher Mike Timlin. Timlin flew in from Colorado to pitch the first two innings of the game because the ALS cause is near and dear -- his mother, Sharon, passed away from the disease in 2002.

While I did play varsity softball at the University of North Carolina, I hadn't played baseball in years. I harbor no delusions about my abilities on a ballfield, so I told Buck and my team player/manager Danny Findley from Bowdoin College that I'd make my official entrance into the Oldtime Games as a pinch-runner. I got my chance when Merloni singled in the bottom of the fifth, with our team down, 4-0. Thankfully, it was an easy trip around the bases: I moved to second on a ground ball, then to third on another, and scored our first run of the game on a single to left-center. The fact that Frates was at the end of the high-five line back in the dugout made the moment extra special.

Also special was the dozen or so young girls who approached me after the game to sign their programs; they'd all grown up in Cambridge watching the Oldtime Game and were so excited to see a girl on the field.

Our team ended up losing, 8-5. But no matter. On a night like that, everybody wins.

Lindsay Berra is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @lindsayberra. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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