Behind The ScenesESPNU

Covering ALS Awareness Game hits home for ESPN’s McGrath

ESPN college sports reporter Molly McGrath covers baseball for the first time in her career Saturday when NC State faces Boston College (4 p.m., ESPNU).

For the BC grad, the sixth annual ALS Awareness Game at Fenway Park hits home. McGrath is the daughter of an ALS researcher.

The ACC matchup is played every year to honor former Boston College captain Pete Frates, who was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in 2012. Former NC State standout Chris Combs, who was also diagnosed with the disease in May 2016, also will be recognized.

McGrath gets first baseball assignment help from ESPN colleague Kris Budden

“I grew up a baseball fan because of – who else? — my dad! He’s a diehard San Francisco Giants fan. I know the sport extremely well, and used to actually cut endless baseball highlights for SportsCenter when I was a production assistant in 2011. However, covering a game is a whole different story. I spoke to a fellow reporter and friend, Kris Budden, on the phone yesterday and she gave me advice about what to look for and how to handle certain situations. I want to do the baseball side of things justice. However, this game is much bigger than baseball. It will be an honor to tell Pete Frates and NC State’s Chris Combs’ stories in this ALS Awareness Game, and it will be a dream come true to do that at Fenway Park. All the proceeds from the game will go towards Pete’s home care.”

“I went to Boston College with Pete Frates,” McGrath shared. “He was the ‘big man on campus’ and had it all — intelligence, charm and a very bright future. He is proof that this ugly disease doesn’t discriminate and can affect anyone. However, Pete has used this as an opportunity to make a significant impact in terms of awareness and funding. His impact on the Boston College community and everyone who knows him extends far beyond what he’s already done, and his message has made an even brighter future for all those who will become affected by ALS.”

The game is also significant to McGrath because her father, Michael McGrath, has dedicated his life to finding a cure for ALS.

“My father has spent my entire life bragging about all of my accomplishments, so please bear with me while I brag about how amazing he is,” McGrath said. “He has his Ph.D. and MD in Cancer Biology from Stanford and has spent countless hours in laboratories and authoring papers on cancer research. In 2004, he set his sights on neurodegenerative diseases. When I asked him why his focus shifted, he said, ‘Because ALS is the worst disease in the world, and there’s no cure.’ That’s still true today, but his company’s recent clinical trial shows significant progress.”

In addition to reporting on the game, McGrath hopes to be able to educate viewers throughout the telecast with information her father has taught her.

“My father is full of scientific jargon and is truly the smartest man I know, and in his intelligence, he’s extremely talented at putting things into layman’s terms,” McGrath said. “ALS is the degeneration of nerves in the brain that control your muscles and allow you to move voluntarily and even breathe. ALS patients eventually can no longer move, talk, or breathe on their own because the connection is lost between the brain and the muscles. However, their cognitive functions remain fully intact and some patients say that they find themselves getting even more intelligent. These wonderfully astute people become paralyzed and trapped in their own bodies, until they die an average of 2-5 years after diagnosis. That is why awareness and funding, like the Ice Bucket Challenge that Pete championed, is so important.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: McGrath will be joined on the ESPNU telecast by play-by-play commentator Jon Sciambi and analyst Danny Kanell, who played baseball as well as football at Florida State.

ESPN's Molly McGrath looks forward to making her baseball reporting debut for numerous reasons.  (Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images)
ESPN’s Molly McGrath looks forward to making her baseball reporting debut for numerous reasons.
(Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images)
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