Utah man to participate in MLB ALS day

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PROVO -- A Utah man will soon be sharing center stage in New York with top baseball stars in an effort to fight the disease that claimed one of the game's biggest starts.

BYU Professor Michael Goldsmith led a push for more funding for Lou Gehrig's disease, or ALS. Now he's been invited to join the ceremonies in honor of Lou Gehrig in Yankee Stadium. "It's everything that I hoped for and more. I never imagined it would come this far," he said.

"It" is a national campaign to find a cure for ALS, the disease that struck down the Yankee great Lou Gehrig, made even more famous in the movies.

The disease has altered Goldsmith's body and his speech, but not his sense of humor. "If they asked me to throw out the first pitch, they will be very disappointed. My arm has gone from rifle to a water pistol," he said.

When Goldsmith was diagnosed with ALS, he turned to the game of his youth for inspiration. He wrote a column in Newsweek calling on Major League Baseball to join the battle against ALS.

That call was so compelling the MLB organization now plans major ALS events on the Fourth of July, the date of Gehrig's famous farewell.

Those who work with ALS patients say Goldsmith's efforts could be a fundraising and awareness game-changer.

"For the public, it will heighten the awareness of ALS, because it's known as the orphan disease; not a lot of people know about it," said Bernadette Tallon, critical nurse coordinator at University Hospital's Clinical Neurosciences Center.

The Neurosciences Center's public relations director, Dennis Jolley, says the many baseball ALS events nationwide could help generate new funds for a disease which has been traditionally underfunded because it's so rare. Roughly 30,000 Americans have the disease.

"I think it's impressive how Michael has taken his condition and not rolled over, but said, 'I'm going to do something that may not benefit me, but may benefit others who have it in the future,'" Jolley said.

Goldsmith says he's gratified to be making a difference. "Back in seventh grade, my English teacher bemoaned the fact that I was a better baseball player than a writer, so I guess in that way I've evolved," he said.

On July 4, players will wear a "4 ALS" patch on their jerseys. Each home team will deliver an on-field reading of Gehrig's farewell speech during the seventh inning stretch. Goldsmith says he expects to participate, but isn't yet sure in exactly what role.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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