Chris Combs, the towering pitcher and slugger for NC State baseball in the 1990s whose public battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease led to more than $4 million in fundraising to combat the disease, died Thursday morning, his brother Ryan posted on Facebook. He was 45.
Combs was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, motor neuron disease also known as ALS, in 2016, and he and his wife, Gena, began raising money for Project ALS at baseball games at his alma maters, NC State and Raleigh’s Broughton High School, under the name Strikeout ALS following his diagnosis.
Chris & Gena Combs asked in 2016, "What would it take to get better drugs for ALS faster?" Now, @TeamChrisCombs raised over $4 million for our research. Their drive led to the founding of the Therapeutics Core at Columbia & to its first promising drug, PHB. #researchresultsfriday pic.twitter.com/Fu4jh7OH7L
— Project ALS (@ProjectALSorg) September 27, 2019
On the field, the 6-foot-7 Combs was a one-of-a-kind talent.
“He had the most power of any player I’ve ever coached,” NC State baseball coach Elliott Avent, whose first year with the Wolfpack was Combs’ senior season, told NSJ in 2016. “But he was so much more than that. He hit an [opposite field] grand slam against Clemson then threw 94 mph in the ninth. That doesn’t happen.”
Combs almost didn’t play that season for Avent. He was selected in the 14th round of the MLB Draft in 1996 but decided to come back for his senior season.
It proved to be the right decision. He was an All-ACC second-team outfielder in 1997, knocking in 76 runs (eighth-most in school history). He finished his career tied for fifth all-time in home runs by an NC State player with 42 and 10th in RBIs with 159.
The Pittsburgh Pirates took him in the fifth round of the 1997 draft, and he played four pro seasons, the first three as a pitcher and one as a first baseman, but didn’t advance out of A-ball.
Combs returned to NC State following his professional career and was associate director for the Wolfpack Club, NC State’s booster club, from 2005-18. The Wolfpack honored his No. 26 this spring, hanging in on the outfield wall at Doak Field.
The Wolfpack Club created the Chris Combs scholarship endowment in 2019.
Combs’ father, Frank, also played for NC State and was a 17th-round draft pick of the New York Yankees in 1969. Frank’s twin brother, Fred, and Chris’ brother Ryan also played for the Wolfpack.
Combs is survived by wife Gena and three children, Anna Marie, Ava and Christopher.