Former University of Miami pitcher Luis Brande spent most of his life on the mound challenging batters. But in October 2012 he was dealt the toughest challenge of his life.
After months of consulting different health specialists, Brande was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
The disease causes motor nerves to degenerate. Brande, 59, can no longer speak or swallow, and has limited use of his limbs.
“It’s frustrating to be boxed in,” wrote Brande, who uses a scribble application on his Samsung Galaxy to communicate. “I miss talking with friends and family. I miss eating. I used to love food!”
The cause of the disease is unknown, and there is no cure.
Brande, who is being treated by UM neurologist Ashok Verma at the Kessenich Family ALS Center, was honored at the UM baseball team’s game against the University of Maine on Saturday.
With the help of his sons, a relay was set up from the mound to home plate. Brande stood and threw the first pitch — and received a standing ovation from the fans and both teams.
In the VIP suite just above the home dugout, friends, family members and former colleagues celebrated Brande’s special day with him.
“It brought back memories of playing UM baseball,” wrote Brande, referring to his moment on the mound. “I had a wonderful time at UM.”
After graduating from Miami-Dade Community College in 1974, Brande transferred to UM on a baseball scholarship. He was a Hurricanes relief pitcher during the 1975 and ’76 seasons.
Red Barry, one of his former coaches, talked about the years they worked together, as well as about Brande’s current condition.
“He was a student of the game, and he was great with kids trying to play baseball,” Barry said. “Luis is a special guy and has the Lord first in his life. I know he will fight through this because he knows that God has a purpose for him.”
Brande graduated from UM in 1976 and spent the next two years working as the director of the Southwest Boys’ Club, where he started a baseball program geared to the Hispanic community.
In 1978, Brande was offered a graduate assistantship at Mississippi State University, where he coached pitchers while earning his master’s degree in education. When he returned to Miami, he became head baseball coach at Coral Park Senior High School and taught science for two years.
After taking eight years off from baseball and education while working as a pharmaceutical representative, Brande became a physical education teacher at Coral Way Bilingual K-8 Center. He worked there for 24 years.
His wife of 17 years, Dora Brande, reflected on his impact on the community, as well as the pain she has dealt with since his disease has progressed.
“You can see the effect he’s had with just how many people are in the room,” she said. “He had all of these plans, you know, and now he can’t do any of the things he had planned to do. Eventually, the disease will paralyze him completely, so we are making plans to get him a powered chair. There are some tough decisions to be made in the future. But he has a strong will, and he’s a wonderful man.”
Brande’s oldest son, Michael, 34, helped his father with the first pitch, and shared his thoughts about his dad’s future.
“I think as much as anyone can be prepared for this and the struggle it causes, he is definitely someone that can take it on,” he said. “I know the type of person he is, and knowing that we are helping him and feeling that he is a burden to us is what plagues him the most. He’s not a burden to us, but I know him and know he feels that way.”
As much as his wife and children have helped Brande fight through his disease, one of his strongest supporters has been his mother. Antonia Baldoquin feels the most important thing is to keep her faith and stay positive for her son.
“There’s so much to say about him. He’s a great son, great husband and great father,” Baldoquin said. “We just have to wait and see. There’s no cure for this, and it’s best to leave it in God’s hands and stay positive.”
Before Brande rejoined his family and friends, he decided to make one more statement.
He grabbed his phone and used his finger to write two words: “Go Canes!”