IN MIDSENTENCE, Wesley Rose was interrupted.
"Dad, it's Chase Utley!" Rose's 5-year-old son Aden said, jumping out of his chair.
As Utley, flanked by his wife, Jen, approached the Rose family - which also included Wesley's oldest son, Nathan, 7, and their grandfather, Ray - he paused. He clearly recognized the group from the previous year's Phillies Phestival.
Jen Utley admired how much the boys had grown in the past 12 months as her husband chatted and signed the two boys' jerseys with "UTLEY" embroidered on the back.
The indelible mark last night at Citizens Bank Park was not limited to the jerseys or baseballs signed by Utley. It left a lasting impact on the three generations of the Rose family present from Glenside.
"It's tough to put into words exactly what this means," Wesley Rose said. "You see them and they are heroes on the field. But then to meet them - and be up close and personal - you see that they are good guys.
"They remember you and they care about you. It's interaction, it's not fake. It makes you like them even more."
Rose, 36, was one of 30 patients with ALS - also known as Lou Gehrig's disease - who attended the 25th annual Phillies Phestival last night. A professor at Arcadia University, Rose is forced to use a wheelchair when traveling longer distances.
Rose was diagnosed with the debilitating neuromuscular disease more than 4 years ago. He sees the impact of the Phestival on a daily basis as a board member for the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the ALS Association.
This year's Phestival raised a record $867,670, surpassing last year's total by more than $100,000. Funds will be used to provide transportation for about 900 local patients, improve care services and fund much-needed research at Pennsylvania Hospital and Hershey Medical Center.
"This money goes to help people right here in the Delaware Valley," Rose said. "ALS is something that we really don't know that much about. Right now, there is only one FDA-approved drug out there. We don't understand why it takes just 1 year to progress in some people but 10 years in another person."
This year, more than 5,500 fans streamed through the turnstiles for a chance to meet their favorite Phillies. Tickets for the autograph booths and photo sessions with Charlie Manuel, Brad Lidge or Shane Victorino were sold out long in advance of yesterday's festivities.
Many of the Phillies were glad to get away from baseball on the off day. Even though they were still at the ballpark, the event and its significance were far removed from the baseball diamond.
"You really understand how to appreciate what you have," Victorino said. "It's one of those things that hits close to home. There is someone that I know personally. It can happen to anyone. You are able to see how lucky and appreciative we are for life."
Since the Phillies captured the World Series last October, the merchandise in this year's silent and live auctions were a little more meaningful. They included game-worn jerseys and caps along with baseballs, bats and bases used in last year's playoffs.
One big hit was a 100th anniversary edition Harley-Davidson autographed by the entire 2009 Phillies team.
More important, it was a chance for fans and players to rub elbows in a fun environment while raising money for an important cause.
"The vibe is very positive," Rose said of the carnival-like atmosphere. "A lot of times with ALS, it seems to be all negative. But it's really important to stay positive for this kind of thing. It's great for people with ALS to smile.
"It's tough to beat this much support from an organization. Now we just need to beat this disease." *