Piscotty Baseball Family Driven To Cure ALS
With a heavy heart and a hopeful spirit, Oakland A’s right fielder Stephen Piscotty is bringing a national story home.
Stephen, a former Amador Valley High and Stanford sports star, lost his mom, Gretchen, in May 2018 to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the rare and fatal condition that’s also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. She was 55.
As part of the drive to raise funding to find a cure for ALS, the Piscotty family’s charity, the ALS CURE Project, is hosting the Country Fest to Cure ALS concert series consisting of three country music fundraiser concerts at spectacular venues in September at Deerfield Ranch Winery (north of Sonoma), on Sept. 10; Campos Family Vineyards (Byron), on Sept. 11; and Wente Amphitheater on Sept. 12.
Nashville recording artist headliners James Otto and Jason Blaine were friends of songwriter Brian Wayne Galentine who died of ALS this year and was the driving force behind Major League Baseball’s Lou Gehrig Day Committee. Stephen Piscotty was awarded the 2021 Lou Gehrig Award on June 2 for his many efforts supporting the ALS community.
“We’re really excited about a lot of things,” Stephen said of the big picture.
Stephen’s dad, Mike, an IT project manager at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, launched the nonprofit ALS CURE Project with his three sons after Gretchen’s death and has made it his mission to find a cure.
“We have created a nonprofit organization to lead research with a laser-focused goal of coming up with a cure for ALS.”
“I made good on a promise to her to work toward a cure for ALS so nobody would have to suffer my Gretchen’s fate,” Mike shared. “We have created a nonprofit organization to lead research with a laser-focused goal of coming up with a cure for ALS.”
The ALS CURE Project along with the Livermore Lab Foundation led an international symposium of ALS researchers to create the first “Roadmap to Cure ALS” in the fall of 2019. The ALS CURE Project is an all-volunteer organization, and 100% of donations are applied directly to leading ALS research at organizations such as Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Stanford, Sheffield University, Barrow Neurological Institute, UCSD, Northwestern, and the UCSF Gladstone Institute.
Stephen Piscotty marvels at his dad’s drive.
“He’s taken something that was obviously a bit of a tragedy for our family in losing my mom, and the way he has responded and set his mind and all of his energy toward finding a cure, it’s really special,” said Stephen. “We’re obviously in huge support of him. … He’s the right man for the job in the sense that he’s so incredibly passionate.”
ALS is a devastating disease attacking the neuromuscular system of the body, slowly and systematically rendering a person paralyzed and struggling to breathe. The journey is particularly painful for families who watch their loved ones become trapped in their own bodies until they pass away. It can affect anyone at any time. They have no biomarkers or cures for ALS.
“THROUGHOUT HIS FAMILY’S ALS ORDEAL, STEPHEN DREW STRENGTH FROM HIS EXTENDED BASEBALL ‘FAMILY’ ACROSS THE COUNTRY, WHICH INCLUDES THE A’S AND CARDINALS ORGANIZATIONS, STANFORD, AND MANY OTHER COMMUNITIES.”
“Some of my fondest memories are with my brothers in the back yard just playing for hours and hours with tennis balls and little wooden bats,”
After college ball, Stephen was the St. Louis Cardinals’ number one draft pick in 2012 and made his major league debut in July 2015. The Cardinals dealt him to Oakland after the 2017 season, in large part so he could assist in Gretchen’s care. She passed away about 16 months after being diagnosed.
Throughout his family’s ALS ordeal, Stephen drew strength from his extended baseball ‘family’ across the country, which includes the A’s and Cardinals organizations, Stanford, and many other communities.
“We’ve felt the love from our East Bay community, the A’s fan base, the St. Louis Cardinals fan base, and many in MLB,” Stephen said. “That was definitely part of this whole journey that our family has been on and that was something that my mom felt when she was still alive and was very grateful for.”
Baseball is forever connected to ALS because of Gehrig, the New York Yankees’ Hall of Fame first baseman who died on June 2, 1941. Gehrig became a Yankees regular starter on June 2, 1925, hence the fitting date for MLB “Lou Gehrig Day,” June 2, 2021. Former Oakland A’s and Yankees great Jim “Catfish” Hunter, another Hall of Famer, also died from ALS in 1999 about a year after being diagnosed.
Always rooted in the Bay Area, Stephen Piscotty was born and raised in Livermore before his family relocated to Pleasanton when he was 13. He played travel ball with numerous elite teams, including the powerful Danville Hoots Baseball Club guided by Don Johns, site director of Islanders Field in the River Islands community.
Johns also coached Stephen’s two younger brothers, Austin and Nick, with the Hoots, and all three of the brothers’ teams advanced to the Connie Mack World Series.
Austin Piscotty went on to play baseball at Saint Mary’s College, and Nick pitched at Duke.
Johns holds a close relationship with the family. He was touched deeply by Gretchen’s plight.
“I had all three boys and the Piscotty family never missed anything,” Johns said of the family’s commitment. “They traveled, the grandfather traveled, everybody traveled with the team– they’re a baseball family. Gretchen was always there, and Mike … They had great kids. They each went on to the next level, and they would always come back and help. That doesn’t happen all the time.”
Stephen says baseball was “woven” into his family.
“Some of my fondest memories are with my brothers in the back yard just playing for hours and hours with tennis balls and little wooden bats,” Stephen recalled. “Those were just amazing times. Obviously, we would go off and play on our Little League teams and our travel ball teams like the Hoots … It was in our DNA, how much we loved the game.”
Colorado Rockies outfielder Sam Hilliard and Stephen have a bond that neither player wished they had. Sam’s father has been diagnosed with ALS and was still battling the disease in the spring. The two players had a brief meeting on March 4 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“You wish the circumstances were different and that you weren’t getting to know someone through that,” Stephen told MLB.com at the time. “But it’s good for me, and hopefully for him, to share in some of the emotion.”
Radio celebrity Marty Lurie, who hosts “Talkin’ Baseball” on KNBR, doesn’t know Stephen personally but admires the strength of his character and his family’s resolve.
He’s seen similar virtues in other baseball families battling ALS.
“These families are so strong that it doesn’t shock me when I hear that they do things like this,” Lurie said of the ALS CURE Project events. “It’s incredible to see it. You want to beat this disease, because when you see how it robs someone who apparently is in good health of everything that they could do, it breaks your heart.”
Interestingly, Stephen’s family story and Gehrig are linked in an ironic way.
When Stephen was a freshman at Amador Valley, he was a good student but struggled in English with writing papers and making speeches. His mom, who worked at Foothill High in Pleasanton at the time, helped him with a report; it was on Gehrig.
“That’s something that I look back on that was kind of interesting, but I don’t know how to describe those feelings,” Stephen recalled.
The moments the family had with Gretchen as she battled ALS were priceless.
“We have some very, very positive, special memories that we are able to look back on which mean the world,” Stephen recalled, “and then after she passed, people reaching out and the connections and the relationships that we’ve made through the charity and this organization are really special and just impressive, really. The people that are helping (in the fight against ALS) and what they’re bringing to the table, they’re just so talented. I never would have met them,” he continued.
The Campos Family Vineyards in Byron took another step in its commitment toward finding a cure for ALS by announcing its label “Lou” 2018 Zinfandel - Barbera Blend, a limited-edition wine that benefits the ALS CURE Project and The Lou Gehrig Society.
“This is the biggest thing that we’ve been a part of,” said Michelle Campos, owner and proprietor of Campos Family Vineyards, in a release. “It is an incredible honor to produce this official label and be able to contribute to finding a cure for ALS in such a significant way.”
An original portrait of Lou Gehrig by Napa Valley Artist, Jessel Miller is available through silent auction. The winner will be announced at The Lou Gehrig Art and Wine Celebration in Spring of 2022 at the Jessel Miller Gallery, Napa Valley.
Jessel Miller Fine Art | ALS CURE PROJECT AUCTIONS
For information on the Country Fest to Cure ALS concert series and to purchase tickets visit: https://paybee.io/
@alscure or contact
Sponsorships are available for single events or the entire series featuring VIP tickets, concert t-shirts, wine from each venue as well as publicity at each event at:
Venue links: www.deerfieldranch.com www.camposfamilyvineyards.com www.wentevineyards.com.