Since 2021, Lou Gehrig Day has represented an opportunity for Major League Baseball to honor one of its most legendary players by raising awareness for the disease that cut his career and life tragically short. Every June 2nd, teams across the MLB present tributes to Gehrig himself – one of the greatest first basemen of all time – as well as highlighting people living with ALS today and organizations involved in the fight against the disease. Now in its fourth year, Lou Gehrig Day has become an important date on the baseball calendar. 

But, for people like Tommy Nance, this day carries a special significance. Tommy is a pitcher with the San Diego Padres organization, where he currently plays for their Minor League affiliate, the El Paso Chihuahuas. He’s also the son of Mark Nance, who has been living with ALS since 2014.

“My dad was a firefighter for 19 years,” says Tommy. “He’s also a veteran. My whole childhood he was the strongest person that I knew. That's made it all a little bit harder. But I see him now and he still is that strong person. Maybe not physically, but mentally. It’s really inspiring how much he wants to stay positive through this whole experience.”

When Mark was diagnosed, 10 years ago, Tommy was playing college baseball, about to embark on his professional career. He says it’s been difficult, through the years, to live the life of a ball player while knowing what his dad is going through with ALS.

“I’m off playing baseball eight months out of the year,” he says. “It is tough. I don’t live close to my family anymore. I try to see them as much as I can. When I do see him, [his progression] feels accelerated for me. My siblings who are still at home and my mom see it every day. It just feels like it's more every time I come home. That's been hard.”

However, despite these challenges, Tommy says Mark has always been one of his biggest supporters – a sentiment that Tommy does his best to return, no matter where he is.

“There have been times where I felt guilty for being away,” says Tommy. “But at the end of the day he wants me to be doing what I’m doing. So, I show my support and help in any way that I can from here.”

To this end, Tommy has worked as an advocate for people with ALS and ALS research. He and his family have raised funds for several ALS organizations, including the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI). Recently, he and his wife, Katherine, dedicated their wedding registry to raise money for ALS TDI’s research to end ALS, in lieu of gifts. 

In 2021, Tommy was able to connect with a group that would bring a new level of ALS awareness to the MLB – the Lou Gehrig Day Committee. It began when he was called up from the minor leagues to pitch for the Chicago Cubs. As he was about to make his Major League debut, he happened to share the story of his father’s diagnosis with the Cub’s manager, David Ross. Ross, in turn, connected him with Cubs broadcaster Jon “Boog” Sciambi. Sciambi, a longtime ALS advocate, was a member of the Lou Gehrig Day Committee, the team that lobbied the MLB to establish the annual event, which was just about to be held for the first time.

“Jon and I became really close,” says Tommy. “We still text now, even though I'm on a different team. He's always asking how my dad's doing. He will text my dad while I'm out in the game pitching. And through that relationship, I got to meet a lot more people and get involved with the Lou Gehrig Day Committee.”

Since getting involved, Tommy says that it’s been inspiring to see ALS recognized by the league, both as someone directly affected by ALS and as someone who has dedicated his life to the sport.

“Personally, it's huge to see this kind of attention,” he says. “I feel supported, and my family feels supported by the league and by all the numerous players that are helping to try to make a change. Baseball is really like a family. It’s really close-knit and I'm just thankful to be part of it.”

As a Lou Gehrig Day Committee member, Tommy says he’s made it his goal to help grow the event and raise its profile among both organizations and fans. In the future, he says he’d love it if there were more events leading up to the day and building excitement throughout the preceding week. He’d like to see more people with ALS invited to attend Lou Gehrig Day ballgames. His biggest goal, however, is to eventually see all players across the league wear number 4 – Lou Gehrig’s number – every June 2nd, like when they all don the number 42 for Jackie Robinson Day.

“There's a lot of people that are affected with this horrible disease each and every day and each and every year,” he says. “I'm hoping that [Lou Gehrig Day] ends up helping more and more people down the road, whether it's supporting care for people with the disease or research to find a cure.”

To donate to support ALS research in honor of Lou Gehrig Day 2024, click here.

What to do next: