July 25, 2013


CollegeBaseballInsider.com Names Winners

of 2013 Tom Walter College Baseball Inspiration Award


RICHMOND, Va. – A college baseball staff member battling Lou Gehrig’s disease with grace and determination and another coach who lost his wife to cancer and dedicated much of his energy to fundraising headline the 2013 winners of CollegeBaseballInsider.com’s third-annual Tom Walter College Baseball Inspiration Award, which recognize examples of inspiration in college baseball.


Boston College director of baseball operations Pete Frates and Illinois State pitching coach Bill Mohl lead the 2013 class of winners. Joining them are Davidson head coach Dick Cooke, Minnesota pitching coach Todd Oakes and pitcher Jordan Jess, Northwestern infielder Cody Stevens (pictured right) and the University of Texas-Pan American baseball team.


The award, started by CollegeBaseballInsider.com (CBI) in 2011, is named for Tom Walter, the head coach at Wake Forest who donated a kidney to freshman outfielder Kevin Jordan before the 2011 season.


“It’s our honor to shine a well-deserved light on an incredible group of student athletes and coaches,” said Sean Ryan, co-founder of CollegeBaseballInsider.com, which has covered Division I college baseball since 2002. “Our winners, as well as the other finalists, have made a tremendous impact to their teams, and more important, their communities and beyond. We congratulate them and thank them for being an inspiration on an off the field.”


While a player at Boston College, Frates was known for playing with intensity, energy and heart. Five years after captaining the Eagles, 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. 


On March 12, 2013, 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.


In September 2012, Cooke, Davidson’s longtime coach, was driving home when he was rear-ended, forcing his car off the highway and into a wooded area. He 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. 


At Minnesota, Oakes (left) ignored symptoms that something wasn’t quite right to get through the 2012 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 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


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 practiced with the Wildcats but 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. 


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.


Other finalists included Monmouth Ty Godfrey, a high schooler who was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was 7 years old and continues to inspire the Hawks by serving as a batboy and helping prep the field for batting practice and games, and Lafayette’s Cory Spera and Robert Tatum, who went above and beyond in reaching out to Virginia teen Nick Balenger, a star high school pitcher who was paralyzed when he dove over a wave while on vacation. (Balenger surprised his classmates at graduation by walking across the stage with the help of a walker.) Finalists were chosen by the staff of CollegeBaseballInsider.com and Walter. Previous winners, including Clemson’s Mike Kent, UT Martin’s Carter Smith and Valparaiso’s Tanner Vavra – all honored in 2012 but still playing college baseball in 2013 – were not eligible.


CollegeBaseballInsider.com just completed its 12th season of free daily coverage of NCAA Division I college baseball, including scores, schedules, composite poll, journals, features and notes.


2012 Tom Walter College Baseball Inspiration Award winners

Marty Gantt, College of Charleston

Mike Kent, Clemson

Alex Silver, Texas

Carter Smith, UT Martin

Tanner Vavra, Valparaiso


2011 Tom Walter College Baseball Inspiration Award winners

Tom Walter, Wake Forest

Cory Hahn, Arizona State

Johnathan Taylor, Georgia

Bayler Teal, South Carolina


(photos courtesy of each school's Media Relations Office)