05/21/07 8:50 PM ET
Phillies raise money, awareness for ALS
18th Annual Phillies Phestival aims to help wipe out disease
By Joseph Santoliquito / Special to MLB.com
PHILADELPHIA -- Wes Rose walks with a cane and a smile. It's difficult to ignore the vibrancy with which the 35-year-old PhD and father of two lives each day. Although it took him a few months to first absorb his situation, to wipe away those original feelings of resentment and anger, for in May 2005, he was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease.Rose was one of many inspirations at the 18th Annual Phillies Phestival, at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night. Rose addressed the Phillies in their clubhouse before Saturday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays. His message was taken with knowing nods and sincerity by the players. It's a message that Rose is looking to spread. "I wasn't sure how or if the players would take it or not," said Rose, a biology professor at Arcadia University. "I basically told the players about my diagnosis and how courageous you have to be. I also told them what this will mean to my kids, since a lot of the players are fathers themselves. The players thanked me for coming to tell my story and shook my hand afterward." In 2006, the Phillies Phestival raised over $671,000. To date, the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the ALS Association and the Phillies have generated more than $8.7 million dollars, with proceeds going toward research at ALS Association Centers at Pennsylvania Hospital and Hershey Medical Center, along with much-needed patient care services. The goal is higher this year: To aid local ALS facilities and people like Rose. Now having a catch with his five-year-old son Nathan or three-old-year son Aidan carries a little more meaning. There may come a time when Rose won't be able to enjoy a simple pleasure that so many take for granted. Rose says he's fortunate to have his boys adjust and evolve with what he's experiencing. They're learning to live with it. But it hasn't stopped Rose from getting out and making his message known to others -- as he did Saturday night with the Phillies and again on Monday at the Phillies Phestival. "The message I spoke to the Phillies about, the message that I want to embody, is to fight it," Rose said. "This is my concrete way of doing that, talking to the Phillies, doing TV and radio interviews, to be a voice for those afflicted with this disease who can't speak anymore. When I was first diagnosed with this, there was this feeling of anger, like I was robbed. I know now that I can't waste any time. I enjoy my family that much more. I don't want to look back and think about the time I wasted when I had it. God's given me the strength to work to deal with this. It's up to me to work with it." Each year, Phillies reliever Geoff Geary is a star at the Phestival. This year, which was a sellout with 4,000 tickets sold, was no different. The right-handed pitcher arrived and spoke to ALS patients before any of his teammates arrived.
ALS carries a special place for Geary, who lost a close friend, Erich Wendel, to the disease."This year is different, because they're new patients and we have more people here this year, which makes you want to work even harder to find a cure," Geary said. "There was one patient I met tonight who's had ALS for 19 years -- 19 years! That's as long as you can fight it." Ellyn Phillips is the President of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the ALS Association. Her husband, Alan, died of ALS in 1984 and is the reason why the Phillies run the event. Phillips has seen the event blossom from when it made $300,000 in 1989 to doubling that figure last year. "It's really hard to imagine that it could have turned into this much of a success," Phillips said. "We couldn't do this without the Phillies, their owners and management team, and without the players. I mean, they're taking an off-day to sign autographs and take pictures all for this charity. These players, especially Geoff Geary, have really been outstanding every year with this. We're getting there, working to find a cure. It will happen. I obviously have personal reasons for finding a cure. But this is a fight I'll never give up. It's very personal for me." Phillies President Dave Montgomery says the Phillies are just a conduit, that the Phestival is about "the people who come and give their time and their money for this cause. A player taking the time out to sign something or to take a picture with someone can really make someone's day. This is probably the best weather we've had since we've been holding the event here at [Citizens Bank Park]." Shane Victorino and Greg Dobbs happily signed autographs and mingled with each of the fans at their table. For the players, the experience is a revelation. "It does make you appreciate things more, but looking at how positive these people are is also an inspiration," Victorino said. "You realize you can't take for granted you're life, but at the same time, you feel good because you're helping people less fortunate than yourself. It's all about them."
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.