ON JULY 4, 1939, at Yankee Stadium, Lou Gehrig uttered the now-famous words, "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."
At last night's 26th annual Phillies Phestival at Citizens Bank Park, fans at the sold-out event considered themselves lucky after getting up-close-and-personal with their favorite players for a good cause.
Since 1984, the Phillies have raised money for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease. Phillies players, wives, broadcasters, front-office members, ball girls and the Phanatic come out for pictures, autographs and a silent auction, with the hopes of raising spirits, awareness and money.
What shouldn't be lost in all the hoopla is what the event has done for the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of ALS patient services and research. And what the chapter, in turn, has been able to do to help those with ALS.
Patti McGuigan, who was a first-time attendee, had the opportunity to watch her son, Gavin, meet Ryan Howard, Jamie Moyer and Brad Lidge.
"I wanted my kid to get some signatures but also my grandmother passed away from ALS," McGuigan, a Croydon native, said. "I think they can raise a lot of money. I think it is a really good idea. It is a good way to try and get your son super excited to meet some of the players."
Michael Cortale and his wife, Rita, who is suffering with the disease, smiled at the sight of a sea of red.
"It's a wonderful thing," the Philadelphia native said. "They have been helping us out for years and we appreciate it. We have been here every year for 20 years. It means a lot and it gives her hope."
The event touches Phillies pitcher J.C. Romero in a special way as he lost an uncle to the disease.
"To me personally, it means a lot," Romero said. "It's something that I believe I have to give back for the grace I have received. It's nice to see so many people knowing the money that is being raised."
Last year, fans helped to raise a record $867,670 to find a cure for the neuromuscular disease. This year, the Phillies expect to raise close to $1 million.
Every year, the event gets bigger. Former Phillie and current hitting coach Milt Thompson has seen the growth.
"I have been coming here for years," Thompson said. "This is a great event. It raises a lot of money for patients with ALS and it's something where we could give back to the community. We also meet some of the patients so it's a real hands-on situation."
Jimmy Rollins was one of the more popular players at last night's event. He said he doesn't mind spending an off night signing autographs because it's for a good cause.
"The Phillies have done a great job," Rollins said. "It helps that the team is winning. The more people show up, we have a better turnout, and the more money is raised.
"We really accept what is going on and we have a lot of fun. You understand how much it means and you look forward to it every year."