With his batting gloves bloodied and Lou Gehrig’s famous speech playing in the background, Anthony Fusco’s father took to the mound to pitch the last 10 softballs before a flood of emotions rushed through Fusco, bringing him to tears.
Fusco was in pain.
“It was an overwhelming moment,” he said. “I had planned all summer for this.”
Fusco is a University of South Dakota Phi Delta Theta fraternity alum and returned to campus August 30 to hit 2,130 softballs in honor of Lou Gehrig.
According to IronPhi.org, the mission of Iron Phi is to strengthen Phi Delta Theta through the fundraising and athletic efforts of its members. Specifically, Iron Phi raises both funds and awareness for ALS research. ALS took the life of Lou Gehrig, who was a member of Phi Delta Theta.
Fusco first came up with the idea to hit 493 softballs in honor of the amount of home runs Gehrig hit in his career. Fusco told his brother about the idea, who suggested Fusco should hit 2,130 softballs — the amount of consecutive games Lou Gehrig played.
In what was a moment of honor mixed with sibling rivalry, Fusco responded with two words:
Fusco then started fundraising, raising $2026.50 for the ALS Association.
He started the challenge at 8 a.m. with festive moods all around at the USD softball complex — music was playing, people were watching and others were completing the Ice Bucket Challenge.
The pain of swinging a bat more than 2,000 times didn’t start to affect Fusco until his swing tally reached four digits, he said.
“The first 900 felt like batting practice,” Fusco said.
Raising money and awareness has picked up massive momentum recently due the the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Celebrities and athletes to USD President James Abbott have participated in the challenge.
According to Forbes, the ALS Association has seen an 3,500 percent increase in donations due the Ice Bucket Challenge. In fact, the ALS Association said that they received $100 million during August alone.
“Now you’re looking it up on the Internet,” USD Phi Delta Theta President Nathan Iversen said. “You’re talking to people about it. You’re getting the word out.”
The Phi Delt chapter at USD has its own ways to raise money for the ALS Association. They host an annual chislic feed with donated food, charging $5 at the door. Phi Delt raised $1,800 at their most recent chislic feed. The money from the chislic feed and various other small projects goes to the Walk to Defeat ALS held in Sioux Falls.
It took about six and a half straight hours of hitting softballs for Fusco to finish his challenge.
“When I actually raised the money then I realized what I had to do,” Fusco said.
When he finally lined up and the swing tally rose, so did Fusco’s pain. Eventually, his hands had to be rewrapped to prevent his third layer of skin being rubbed away.
After more swings and more pain, Fusco’s dad finally came to the mound to deliver the last 10 pitches. Fusco’s dad pitching brought forth nostalgia for his younger days in Ohio, when his dad would pitch batting practice in the front yard.
“It brought my childhood right before my eyes,” he said.
After a swing-filled day, Fusco hydrated and slept, leaving the wounds to heal.
“This will heal. ALS, apparently, you can’t heal from.”
(Anthony Fusco hit 2,130 baseballs on Septemeber 6 to raise money for ALS. The amount of baseballs he hit was the total number of games Lou Gehrig, a professional baseball player who had ALS, played in. Submitted photo.)