Baseball has always been a special part of the Cels family. Mike Cels played the sport through high school, switching to slow pitch as an adult and playing it at a competitive level for most of his adult life. After he was diagnosed with ALS in 2017, he and his wife Carmen checked off a bucket list item when they traveled to Dunedin, Florida for the Blue Jays’ spring training. Their children played t-ball when they were younger and have been to many Jays games with their parents, who are both avid fans.

“The Jays were the one team we could all agree upon,” Mike says. “We formed family memories such as son Jonathan losing a tooth at a game. Or the time our daughter Cynthia got to be on the field and up on the jumbotron singing the national anthem with classmates. From souvenir jerseys to hats, scarves, banners, pennants and foam fingers we can be easily spotted as eager fans.”

Since Mike’s diagnosis, the family has gone to see the Jays at the Rogers Centre in 2018 and 2019 from the Sightlines restaurant so that he could still access the game while using his wheelchair and walker.

When they heard that the Major League Baseball community was rallying together for Lou Gehrig day this year, the Cels were excited. “As someone living with ALS, I am glad to see Major League Baseball take on this cause recognizing that since his passing in 1941, Lou Gehrig has been permanently associated with the disease,” Mike says. “As a result Major League Baseball is uniquely positioned to raise awareness of ALS and the fact that it can affect almost anyone at any time.”

“I would also like the broader community to understand that since Lou Gehrig’s death we still don’t know what causes the illness – that there is still no cure and very little in the way of treatment. At the same time there is great promise and excitement in research, so we need their support to keep the momentum going and one day bring an end to ALS.”

With the pandemic, there haven’t been opportunities to take in a game at the Rogers Centre, but the Cels look forward to when they can see the Jays in action. At least once a year they have seen a game in person, whether for celebrating birthdays and Father’s Days, or as a fun activity with out-of-town visitors.

“For us, the Blue Jays and going to a game brings a little bit of joy to our day, and anything I can do to get Mike out there and experiencing something other than the day-to-day is something we would definitely look forward to,” Carmen says.

For Carmen, Lou Gehrig Day is about shining a light on the realities of ALS. “I had always assumed there was some kind of relationship between MLB and ALS patients, and I’m glad there is something formal,” she says. “It means bringing more awareness to ALS – it could mean much more education about the devastating impact of the illness, and therefore how it would impact families and caregivers – helping to open the window as to what living with ALS looks like.”

“We hope the MLB and the Blue Jays in particular would consider making this an annual cause – that they would consider making donations and raising awareness on the day and increasing accessibility and access to the games and maybe the players, to make those games very special,” she says. “I think that would be great for Major League Baseball and for ALS across Canada and the United States.”

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Use social media to share your baseball connection and what Lou Gehrig Day means to you. Use the hashtag #StrikeOutALS and tag @ALSCanada and your provincial ALS Society.

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