Lou Gehrig Day special to Hilliard, Colorado Rockies
By Duane DaPron
For Sam Hilliard and the Colorado Rockies, Major League Baseball’s celebration on Thursday of Lou Gehrig Day has special meaning.
This marks the second year that MLB, on June 2, has honored the legacy of the former New York Yankees Hall of Famer who has helped inspire the ongoing movement to end ALS — Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Gehrig succumbed to the neurodegenerative disease on June 2, 1941.
For Sam Hilliard of the Colorado Rockies, the disease struck his own family as his father, James, died from ALS last September.
Understandably, the commemorative day brings a range of emotions to the Colorado Rockies outfielder.
“There’s a lot of emotions,” Hilliard told media Thursday afternoon before Colorado’s series opener against the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves at Coors Field. “First of all, I wish my Dad was here to see it and take part in this with us. Also, there’s some pride. We’re proud of this day that we helped to kind of put together.”
Hilliard noted the Colorado Rockies franchise took a leading role among MLB clubs in the establishment of Lou Gehrig Day.
“The Rockies were the first team out of all 30 teams to back the support of this day,” he said. “So, we kind of helped get the ball rolling. My Mom (Tamara) worked her butt off getting this thing going. So, we’re happy that we can use this day to help advance the awareness and hopefully raise a lot of money in the goal of eventually finding a cure for this disease.”
Hilliard noted the importance of having a day to honor Gehrig, who on June 2, 1925, became the Yankees’ starting first baseman and went on to compile a legendary streak of 2,130 consecutive games played, a feat that would stand more than 60 years.
“Lou Gehrig has his own day because he is deserving of it,” Hilliard said while noting that there was a process necessary before MLB designated an official day to honor the former Yankee great. “Just as a player, how remarkable he was as a baseball player on the field. He holds a lot of records, so it was a long time coming. We’re happy that we could have been a part of it.”
Hilliard hopes Lou Gehrig Day will help familiarize people with the seriousness of ALS.
“I think a lot of people are starting to hear about it and become more familiar with it,” he said noting such nationwide events as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and Lou Gehrig Day. “I just don’t think people quite understand a lot of the details of the disease, how horrible it can be and how it affects families. It’s essentially a death sentence when people get diagnosed with it.
“I bet a lot of people don’t realize that there’s no cure and there’s really no hope for a lot of people who get diagnosed with it,” he added. ”It’s an underfunded disease and we’re trying to gain traction to get that funding to get on the right track to find a cure.”
Hilliard, along with his mother and other family members, have founded Team Hilliard Foundation to raise awareness and help with fundraising efforts for ALS research.
Besides merchandise sales, he said that foundation plans for other future fundraising projects include a golf tournament in Texas, featuring current and former Rockies as well as other MLB players, and a youth baseball camp.
Hilliard thanked his Colorado teammates for their support of his involvement with awareness of the disease.
“They don’t have to do it and they do it all the time,” he said of his teammates wearing ALS-related clothing to show their backing of Hilliard’s work with hopes of eventually finding a cure for the disease.
“They’re really great teammates and even better friends,” he added. “They’re Big League baseball players, but they are people and, at the end of the day, they’re really, really good people.”