WHEN THE GATES to Citizens Bank Park opened yesterday at 4:30 p.m., fans began to flood the stadium as they would for a normal Phillies game. But instead of finding their seat and catching the end of batting practice, they lined up to meet the players who take that very field.
The Phillies held their annual Phestival at the ballpark, where about 7,000 fans got the chance to help raise money in the fight against Lou Gehrig's disease. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Yankees great giving his famous speech after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and the 30th year of the Phillies' partnership with the ALS Association.
"It's pretty cool we get that kind of support from the fans," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "That's what it is really about, the fans helping the Phillies support ALS. It is a pretty special event for us."
Each Phillie except closer Jonathan Papelbon (reportedly a family commitment) was in attendance and had his own area to meet fans and sign autographs. Fans had to pay for admission, as well as pay for additional autographs.
All of the proceeds go to what Ellyn Phillips, the president of the Philadelphia chapter of the ALS Association, calls "help and hope." The association helps victims with technology and other assistance. The hope aspect comes from research conducted around world to help find a cure for a disease that 5,600 people a year in the United States are diagnosed with.
The Phillies raised a record $904,732 during the night, bringing the total raised by the team to more than $15 million over 30 years.
"You can't even find the right words, because it means so much to us," Phillips said. "It is overwhelming that the team has been by our side for 30 years, and we have watched our organization grow by leaps and bounds because of them."
In 1984, when the Phillies, team executive Bill Giles and his wife Nancy partnered with the ALS Association, the organization's budget was $4,500, Phillips said. With help from the Phillies and events such as the Phestival, the budget has swollen to $6 million, giving those in need more assistance than ever.
"It is important," Amaro said. "ALS is such an insidious disease. There is no demographic. It covers everything. We are really trying to knock it out. We are hoping that some of these funds, and they will, will go directly to research. They are doing some stem-cell work. They are making some progress, but it is not enough progress until we eradicate it."
Even some of the youngest Phillies understand the value of helping the community. Third baseman Cody Asche, who is in his first full year in the majors, is a big supporter of giving back to the people.
While attending Nebraska, he painted houses and made visits to reading programs at elementary schools. He is happy he landed with an organization that values community service.
"It means a lot," Asche said. "They set the tone with us in the minor leagues with the Phillies Care program. They have us out there doing community service, something I took pride in on my way up, making sure I was always getting the hours in, and serve others and give back. I am a big believer in that. There are certain things you need to do, and you have to give back somehow."
The Phillies have only 14 scheduled off days in a season, (besides the All-Star break), and they spent one raising money to fight a horrid disease.
As Amaro said, "they just get it." They were happy to spend a few hours for a good cause with their fans before boarding a flight to their next series in Miami.
"I'm excited to be out here for a good cause," Asche said. "It's pretty neat the impact the Phillies have had on people's lives."
The team will go back to their regularly scheduled business tonight in South Florida, having raised close to a million dollars in a day. While they might not think twice about it, the impact on the ALS foundation can be felt for far longer than a day.