It was 1959. Stuart Nichols, 7, settled into the seat next to his father, Owen, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox.
Little did he know that one day his passion for baseball would be a gift to his son and that ironically, he would develop ALS, the disease named after one of the greatest men in baseball history, Lou Gehrig.
Take me out to the ball game
An avid White Sox fan, Nichols, now 52 and living in Kingwood, Texas, passed on the family baseball tradition by taking his son Andrew to his first major league game at the Houston Astrodome at age 7, in 1990.
“Somewhere in the middle of that game he just looked to me and said, ‘Dad, we ought to go to a baseball game in every stadium.’ I told him, ‘That’s one heck of an idea.’”
That summer afternoon marked the beginning of a father-son mission to visit all 30 major league stadiums in the United States and Canada.
They started collecting memorabilia such as souvenir pins and pennants from each stadium. Each kept a scrapbook, complete with scorecards, photos, the following day’s newspaper clippings and write-ups detailing the experiences.
Working for Exxon-Mobil for nearly 29 years, Nichols moved his family several times; each new location allowed Nichols and Andrew (now 22 and a college graduate) to visit more stadiums. Even during a four-year stint in Europe they managed to visit the States for a few games one summer.
Thrown a curve
In the summer of 2003, Nichols developed pain, muscle cramping and twitching in his right arm.
Even with the diagnosis of ALS in January 2004, Nichols didn’t put the goal aside. If anything, it became even more important.
“As I was thinking about what was going to be important for me to do while I still could, the only thing that really came to my mind was that I really wanted to finish the baseball tours,” Nichols says.
Currently, he’s mainly affected on the right side of his body. Nichols has a hard time using that hand and walking long distances, which makes traveling to stadiums rather difficult.
“I’m going to do it,” says Nichols. “I’m going to find a way.”
Root for the home team
After his diagnosis, Nichols became active with MDA, and a profile featuring the father-son baseball mission was aired on the Houston broadcast of last year’s Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. He’ll be featured on this year’s national broadcast of the Telethon.
“I want to make more people aware of ALS and how deadly it is and how much we need to work now to find a cure to start saving people’s lives,” he says. “I hope to be a survivor of it, but if I’m not, I want to be remembered as one of the people that was on the team that beat the curse of ALS.”
Nichols spoke at the MDA/ALS Holiday Research Dinner and helped put together in Jan. 2005 a no-limit Texas Hold ‘em poker tournament called All in for ALS that raised more than $100,000 for ALS research.
Bottom of the ninth
As of right now, Nichols and Andrew have seen all the teams at their home stadiums except the Atlanta Braves, the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
An option is to complete the quest with a visit to Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix to see the Arizona Diamondbacks. It’s a fitting way to mark the occasion because nearby Tucson is the home of MDA’s national headquarters.
What’s next for the lifelong baseball fan?
“There have been a lot of baseball stadiums built in the past 10 years,” said Nichols, who wants to revisit the same teams but at their brand new stadiums. “Another dream is to be a long-term survivor of ALS and be able to go [to baseball games] with my grandchildren.”