05/24/10 7:58 PM ET
Annual Phillies Phestival a rousing success
Players participate in charity event to benefit ALS Association
By Zach Schonbrun / MLB.com
After the ballpark filled up Sunday for the 65th consecutive time for the Phillies vs. the Red Sox, on Monday, tickets were sold out for the 26th annual "Phillies Phestival" -- a charity autograph and auction party to benefit the ALS Association.
More than 7,000 fans took part in the three-hour event held at Citizens Bank Park, in which they could meet and greet players, visit photo booths of pitchers Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels and manager Charlie Manuel, and partake in live and silent auctions.
And in a special gathering near the clubhouse, select players -- including stars Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins -- met with about 25 patients with ALS, walking around and shaking hands with those afflicted with the disease.
"I think it makes you appreciate life more," shortstop Juan Castro said. "It makes you think that most of us are really blessed."
Since 1984, the Phillies have raised more than $11 million for the Greater Philadelphia chapter's patient services and research to help the fight against ALS -- also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Last year, the event brought in more than $860,000, and Ellyn Phillips, the president of the Greater Philadelphia chapter, has been astounded by the growing support of the community.
"It has been critical to our success," Phillips said. "We've met sponsors that have become more involved with us, the Phillies help us get sponsorship. Believe me, they could pick other charities. We're fortunate, as [Phillies president David Montgomery] says, that the Phillies see their money at work."
The first year of the fundraiser, when it was simply a fashion show, raised $28,000. This year, the total could be close to $1 million, most of which stays in the Philadelphia area and goes into continued funding of an ALS center at Philadelphia hospital.
Montgomery credits the ALS Association for their work in putting together the event.
"They're really the engine that drives the event," Montgomery said. "We just create the vehicle. It's great because not only do our players participate, our players' wives, but our full-time employees and our game day employees as well. We're pretty fortunate that we get such participation from the whole organization."
As players like Rollins and Howard walk into the room full of wheelchair-bound patients, it's obvious the excitement grows. Some even let out a few cheers ("Jimmy!") and most of them wanted to know how the Phillies would fare against the Mets this week.
"The players are such nice guys, they really are," Phillips said. "Even the ones that are new to this were just gentlemen. Some of them I've known for a long time, Jimmy and Chase and Ryan. They're just really great. They are taking their time to participate."
That 7,000 tickets were sold to the event -- selling out days before the gates even opened -- seemed a testament to the fans' desire to see the players even on their off-day.
"The fans here really are amazing," reliever David Herndon said. "The fan support is tremendous. It's awesome to get to meet some of the people outside a uniform, and let them see us."
"I think that this is an example of our fans' affinity with the players, because I think they like our guys as people, not just as players," Montgomery said. "They see them as caring citizens as well as gifted athletes. They're more than willing to get involved and give back. And we have the core group that's been with us a while now, and as a result the people in this room and our fans can identify with them so well."
Among the items that were available in the live auction was a trip for two to Chicago for the Cubs-Phillies series, game-used gear, framed lithographs, box suite tickets and World Series memorabilia. The silent auction featured vacation packages, autographs, and opportunities to announce the lineup or be bat boy for a day.
All the auction proceeds, on top of ticket sales and sponsorships, will go to the ALS Association, support which Phillips said is beyond her belief. But, more than anything monetary, is what a night with some of the stars of the Phillies means to some of the patients.
"It means they're not alone, that they have the backing of an incredible baseball organization, that they haven't been forgotten, that their needs are going to get met because of the money that's raised," Phillips said. "It's very gratifying. And they're thrilled, they're so ecstatic."
Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.