Rebecca, AnnMarie, Tim,
Ryan and Adam Gemelli at a Red Sox game this summer. |
(Photos courtesy of AnnMarie Gemelli)
Last fall, at the end of the summer season, Wrentham Youth Baseball coach Tim Gemelli felt pain in his shoulder while throwing batting practice. The pain continued, so he went to the doctor for a routine checkup.
There was no way he could have expected the diagnosis that was about to come his way.
It was determined in October 2013 that Tim had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He held the tragic news close for several months while he sought second and third opinions, but finally told his fellow coaches (and good friends) in an emotional meeting in January.
“It’s life-altering,” said Dan Collins, who has worked with Tim on the coaching staff for the past four years. “It could happen to anyone…it really hit home for all of us.”
Shortly after telling the coaches, the players were also told. Collins explained, “Tim and [his son] Adam stayed home from practice and we spent half an hour with the kids to explain ALS and the situation. I’m not sure a lot of the kids knew what ALS was and they walked away with a lot of questions.”
Collins, who was on the verge of tears while recalling the meeting, continued, “The coaches and their sons were having a hard time keeping it together…As a team, it really brought us together and rallied us for a great season.”
|Tim throws out the first pitch at Fenway Park.|
With the support of the Wrentham Youth Baseball Softball Association (WYBSA) board and, in particular, the league’s president Gary Campbell, Collins set about creating a YouCare site to fundraise for the Gemelli family. So far, the site has raised more than $55,000 of the stated goal of $100,000.
On Opening Day in April, Tim, who was already starting to show the effects of his disease, threw out the first pitch. WYBSA sold bracelets and t-shirts and promoted the “Pitch In for Tim” campaign.
“It’s been such an outpouring of support,” said Collins. “I didn’t know what kind of community we lived in. The Wrentham community has stepped up above and beyond.”
In early September, AnnMarie Gemelli spoke about the support that the family has received from the league, players, friends, family, and the Wrentham community.
“We were blown away,” said AnnMarie, echoing a phrase that Collins used. “It’s been an incredible comfort knowing that we weren’t alone. It’s unbelievable and we can’t thank them enough.”
She added, “It’s taken a horrible situation and made it bearable because we’ve been surrounded by support.”
Tim continued with his coaching through the summer even as the disease continued to take its toll. Although, he was not able to throw batting practice or to take the field with the team, he was a constant presence on the bench. He was the team’s scorekeeper, thanks to an iPad app that allowed him to keep the book without needing to write, and he was an inspiration for the players during the season.
“Baseball is his life,” said AnnMarie on speakerphone with Tim by her side. “I would do anything it took to get him to the field because he felt involved and never forgotten.”
Collins added, “The boys love him. The summer coach insisted that he stay with the team as long as he wants. They’ve latched on to him and that’s really cool.”
Tim’s presence on the bench has also given the players a firsthand understanding of the devastating effects of ALS and of the need for compassion.
AnnMarie explained, “We wanted the kids to feel comfortable asking questions. We wanted it to be open and not be a secret…and for them to not be afraid to be around people that are a little bit different.”
|Tim and Adam at the Red Sox game.|
The WYBSA campaign to help the Gemelli family this summer has coincided with the international Ice Bucket Challenge, spearheaded locally by former Boston College and St. John’s Prep baseball player Pete Frates. Frates has reached out to Tim on several occasions in the past year and AnnMarie said that the viral campaign, which has raised more than $50 million for ALS research, has been another comfort to the family in this difficult time.
“We pray for a cure; we pray for treatment,” she said. “It may not work for Tim, but we’re trying to take the good out of this situation…we can face each day stronger seeing all of this happen.”
On July 5, on the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s famous “I’m the luckiest man in the world” speech, Tim and the summer league team were given a special treat when they were all invited to Fenway Park. Tim threw out the first pitch and then the team celebrated on the rightfield roof deck and watched the Red Sox take on the Baltimore Orioles.
“I admire his fearlessness even as the appreciation grows fro what he has and what it is going to become,” said Collins. “He still supports the kids…is still a husband and father…just like he always was.”
Erik Sawyer, Gary Campbell,
Rick Sabatini, Mike Fisette |
and Dan Collins on the roof top at Fenway to support Tim.
Collins and other volunteers from the community have been working to retrofit the basement of Tim and AnnMarie’s home to make it more comfortable and easier for Tim to manage. They are widening hallways to make it easier for a wheelchair to get through, building lifts, and customizing rooms. On the day of demolition in the basement, nearly 30 people showed up to lend a hand.
“I feel so overwhelmed because I want to thank everyone,” said AnnMarie who noted that the finishing touches on the basement were being put in place while she spoke.
The future is still an unknown that the Gemelli family is facing each and every day. As Tim’s ALS progresses, new and unexpected challenges arise that must be dealt with.
“From one day to the next, you don’t know what is going to change,” said AnnMarie. “Vans, wheelchairs - you don’t have time to wrap your head around it.”
Even as she explains the toll that ALS is taking on Tim, AnnMarie promises, “I anticipate that next spring…we’ll be out there [at the baseball field] as much as we can.”
The support of the community has been a godsend for the family to this point, but more is still needed. To donate to the Tim Gemelli Family Fund, visit www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/tim-gemelli-family-fund/137550.