PHOENIX — D-backs team president and CEO Derrick Hall has seen up close the effects Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” can have on a person and the way it not only impacts the individual, but family members and loved ones as well.
The battle to find a cure has always felt personal for him, and it’s why he was so moved when Zac Brown Band founding member, John Driskell Hopkins, sang the national anthem before the Braves-D-backs game at Chase Field on Monday.
Hopkins announced recently that he had been diagnosed with ALS toward the end of last year, and he started a foundation called “Hop on a Cure” to support research to prevent, reverse and cure ALS while also raising awareness. He will be back at Chase Field on Nov. 19 when Zac Brown Band plays the final show of their 2022 international “Out in the Middle Tour.”
“It was great having him at the ballpark and for him having the courage to share his diagnosis with the world through his celebrity,” Hall said.
Major League Baseball will hold its second annual Lou Gehrig Day on Thursday, with teams holding special ceremonies and activities at their ballparks.
ALS is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that can strike anyone at any time. People lose the ability to control their muscles, which affects their ability to walk, talk, eat and eventually breathe. There are an estimated 20,000-30,000 people living with ALS and there are no significant options to extend life or cure the disease, though there are currently several potential treatments in late-stage clinical trials.
“ALS has always been an important fight for me, having lost my grandfather to it while I was in high school and losing a dear friend eight years ago,” Hall said. “I have pleaded with MLB to make it an annual league-wide event and my counterparts jumped on board a few years ago to get it done universally. Lou Gehrig is such an important figure in our game’s history. We owe it to him and all who have been impacted by this disease to continue seeking and finding a cure.”
As far back as 2019, Hopkins began to experience some balance problems and issues with his fingers, but it wasn’t until December 2021 that he got the diagnosis of ALS. So far, the progression of his disease has been slow, Hopkins said, but he has been working overtime to get his foundation up and running, finding comfort in the fact that so many people around the world are working for a cure.
“Aside from the first couple of months where the anxiety was crippling, I’ve never been a part of something where so many people are hopeful for the future, of finding a cure, and that all of the treatments are coming to together so harmoniously and that everyone is working together,” Hopkins said. “I sang the anthem at Chase Field two days ago, and that was really cool. I had a lot of baseball interviews there and a lot of people have asked, ‘Why come forward? Why not keep it private?’ And my answer to that is, ‘I wanted to be able to look my daughters in the eye and tell them that we did everything that we could do to help move forward and find a way to fix it.'”