In Michigan’s dominant home-opening series against Manhattan College, it might have been easy to miss the many Wolverines now donning mustaches.
It wasn’t just a way for players to stay warm after returning to Ann Arbor from their two sunny series in California and Florida. Michigan is taking part in “mustache March,” a campaign against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
The Wolverines are joining East Carolina and Memphis in growing out their mutsaches over the month to encourage donations to the ALS Association’s “Strike Out Lou Gehrig’s Disease” campaign.
This is Michigan’s first year taking part in the campaign, which originated at East Carolina four years ago. Michigan coach Erik Bakich has ties to East Carolina from both his playing and coaching career, which helped the mustache-growing effort take root in Ann Arbor.
East Carolina coach Clifford Godwin, who enlisted Bakich in the ALS campaign, looks back fondly on their years spent together playing in Greenville, North Carolina.
“He is one of my best friends,” Godwin said. “Meeting him back in the fall of 1998, Erik a California kid and me an Eastern North Carolina kid — what people would probably consider a ‘country boy’ — at first we were just trying to feel each other out and see how those worlds mixed.
“At the end of the day, no matter what our different backgrounds were, we all loved one another because we just wanted to make EC baseball better.”
And that they did. Bakich and Godwin, along with current Michigan assistant coach Nick Schnabel, helped the Pirates win back-to-back conference championships in the 1999 and 2000 seasons and earn No. 1 seeds in NCAA Regionals both years. The two reunited at Vanderbilt in 2004-05 as Godwin served as Director of Baseball Operations while Bakich was an assistant coach for the Commodores.
ALS is a meaningful cause in any case, but it carries personal significance for Bakich and Godwin. In their two seasons together as Pirates, the two coaches played under Keith LeClair, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2001 and later succumbed to the disease. Memphis, meanwhile, is taking part because the father of a player passed away from the disease last year.
“When our second baseman at the time proposed having a mustache March, I told him, ‘No way unless it’s for a great cause,’ ” Godwin said. “So, when he came into my office the next day proposing we do so in an effort to raise money for Lou Gehrig’s disease, I was completely on board.
“In the offseason I called up Erik to get Michigan baseball involved since he, Nick Schnabel and I played for Keith. Of course, he was happy to join. … The disease hits home for both of us.”
Last year, ECU and Memphis combined to raise over $10,000 to fight the disease. With the Wolverines involved this year, that total promises to be even higher.
“Our players are not only hoping to help raise awareness but also put some financial traction behind the good cause,” Bakich said. “Hopefully we can make a nice contribution.”
Beyond that, with the team quickly approaching the busiest stretch of its season, Bakich is also glad to have a source of levity.
“I don’t know how growing a mustache got picked,” he said. “But in addition to helping a great cause, it’s certainly provided a little comic relief, too.”