July 19, 2013


CBI Names Finalists for Tom Walter Inspiration Award


RICHMOND, Va. – CollegeBaseballInsider.com, which has covered Division I baseball on the national level since 2002, today announces finalists for the 2013 Tom Walter College Baseball Inspiration Award.


The award recognizes examples of inspiration in college baseball and is named for Wake Forest coach Tom Walter, who donated a kidney to freshman outfielder Kevin Jordan before the 2011 season. Walter was honored along with Georgia outfielder Johnathan Taylor and Arizona State outfielder Cory Hahn, both of whom were paralyzed during games in the 2011 season, and Bayler Teal, a 7-year-old boy whose battle with cancer inspired 2010 and 2011 national champion South Carolina in 2011, the first year of the award. The 2012 winners can be found here.


The finalists were nominated by Division I college baseball coaches and administrators. The 2013 award winners will be announced on July 25.


Dick Cooke - Davidson


In September 2012, longtime Davidson coach Dick Cooke was driving home when he was rear-ended, forcing his car off the highway and into a wooded area. Cooke sustained multiple serious injuries, including bleeding on his brain, broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a broken right tibia, a broken right ankle and a broken right cheekbone. The veteran coach walked with a crutch for a large chunk of the 2013 season, and toward the end of the year, his limp was still noticeable. On the field Cooke’s Wildcats were picked to finish last in the SoCon but finished a half-game shy of qualifying for the conference tournament. 


Pete Frates – Boston College


On the baseball field, Pete Frates was known for playing with intensity, energy and heart. Five years after captaining Boston College, those same characteristics were on display when in the spring of 2012, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, at the age of 27. No longer able to keep his sales job, Eagles coach Mike Gambino hired Frates as the team’s director of baseball operations. In addition to assisting in many phases of the Eagles’ program, Frates has been on a mission to raise awareness and funds for ALS research. He and his family started the Pete Frates #3 Fund, and the “Frate Train” helps to subsidize medical care and expenses not covered by health insurance.


Todd Oakes and Jordan Jess – Minnesota


In 2012, Minnesota pitching coach Todd Oakes ignored symptoms that something wasn’t quite right to get through the season. Shortly after the season, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and spent 80 days in the hospital, including a spell after receiving a bone marrow transplant from his brother. Oakes returned this season to lead the Golden Gophers’ pitchers, including Jordan Jess. Jess, a sophomore, was inspired by Oakes’ ordeal and signed up with Be The Match to be a bone marrow donor. Two short months later, Jess learned that he was a match and in February went through a procedure to donate bone marrow to a needy recipient


Bill Mohl – Illinois State


On March 12, 2013, Illinois State pitching coach Bill Mohl received a call from his wife Sarah, who had been battling a rare form of cervical cancer since the previous August. His wife, 28, told him she had two weeks to live. The day Mohl told the Redbirds he had to leave to be by her side, they beat Miami 17-6. Mohl’s wife passed away on March 25, and he returned to the Redbirds on April 5 – Illinois State responded by going 24-4, including a program-best 12-game winning streak, en route to its first outright Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title. Mohl’s pitchers had a lot to do with it, as Chris Razo was the first ISU pitcher to be named conference pitcher of the year, and Dan Savas finished 10-0. Along the way, the Redbirds collected $12,000 for the Vs Cancer Foundation, and the entire team shaved their heads after reaching the goal. Mohl has raised nearly $25,000 on his own through Pelotonia.


Cory Spera and Robert Tatum – Lafayette


While vacationing in Hawaii just weeks after his Lake Braddock (Va.) High School team had won the state title, Nick Balenger dove over a wave and suffered a severe neck injury that left him paralyzed. Spera and Tatum, who played high school ball near Lake Braddock, read about Balenger’s injury in The Washington Post and sent the star pitcher a two-page handwritten letter along with a hat and Leopards baseball shirt. In a note to Lafayette coach Joe Kinney, Balenger’s parents said that of all the baseball teams and players that reached out to the family, none had touched them like the Lafayette Leopards. “Two of your players, Cory Spera and Robert Tatum, reached out to Nick in a way that shows such great character that I had to let you know.” Of note, Balenger recently graduated from Lake Braddock, surprising his classmates by walking across the stage with the help of a walker.


Cody Stevens – Northwestern


Cody Stevens was playing summer ball for the Chillicothe Paints of the Prospect League when he was hit in the head by a pitch. Stevens, the son of Northwestern coach Paul Stevens, was removed from the game and was on the team bus when the lingering effects of the pitch started to take hold. He was rushed to a hospital in Beckley, W.Va., where doctors determined he should be flown to Charleston, W.Va. Doctors performed emergency surgery for a blood clot that nearly took his life. The road back has been slow, as Stevens redshirted this season. But he’s returned to the playing field with the Paints this summer. Along the way, he’s forged a lasting friendship with Lipscomb’s Will Blalock, who delivered the unfortunate pitch. And he’s inspired his teammates with his faith, as well as his desire to get back on the field.


UTPA Baseball


In 2011 and 2012, Texas Pan-American held a pair of blood drives for a local 4-year-old who was diagnosed with a rare bone marrow disease. The local girl made a full recovery. While on a trip to UT-Brownsville, an NAIA school, a Brownsville woman asked to meet Broncs coach Manny Mantrana. The family had seen a story about the Broncs’ support of Jiada Grace Ortiz and wondered if they could help their son Nolan Naranjo, a 5-year-old who also had aplastic anemia. On May 12, 2012, the Broncs hosted a blood drive at their game to benefit Nolan with all donors getting free tickets and the Naranjo family enjoying the game in a suite with gift baskets and free food and drink from the concession stand. Nolan threw out the first pitch. Nolan’s condition worsened over the summer as he developed myelodysplastic syndrome and needed a bone marrow transplant. The baseball team decided to hold a bone marrow drive for Nolan on September 12, 2012. Every member of the team registered to become bone marrow donors and encouraged 250 people to register. They sent a video of the drive to Nolan. Later, when the child lost his hair, the Broncs shaved their heads and took a team photo holding up letters that spelled out “NOLAN #1.” The team sent the photo to Nolan, and it hung in his hospital room for the rest of his stay. He also came to start calling the Broncs “my team.” In the end, Nolan’s mother, who was a 50 percent match, donated her bone marrow and Nolan’s body accepted the donation. The Broncs celebrated with another Blood Drive in Nolan’s honor on January 29, 2013. The timing was perfect, as Nolan was home from the hospital that weekend, so his family was able to take him to see his team.


Ty Godfrey - Monmouth


Godfrey, a junior in high school, is a batboy for Monmouth. He was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor when he was seven years old. Godfrey connected with Hawks baseball through “Friends of Jaclyn.” Godfrey helps prep the field for batting practice and games, while working with the umpires as well. Along with being a team manager for his high school baseball team, Godfrey works at a local golf course and is the batboy for the minor league Lakewood BlueClaws.