The Life Lessons of Phillies Phestival

Last Summer I took a road trip to Cooperstown with my family including my 10-year-old nephew.  It was during baseball’s All-Star break and Dom Brown was just named to his first All-Star Game after a monster first half of 2013. If you have never been to the Baseball Hall of Fame, it’s in a quaint little town in upstate New York that looks like downtown Haddonfield, NJ.  That is if every shop in Haddonfield was a memorabilia shop.  A memorabilia shop who’s sole purpose is to turn your nostalgia into the highest dollar amount they can.

Since my nephew is a Phillies fan in the purest form, that of a ten year old, the economic side of such things is largely lost upon him.  As it should be, I think.  So when he saw a Dom Brown ball that literally still had the Fed Ex packing slip on it, he really didn’t care that the price was 4 or 5 times higher than it would be at home on any other weekend BUT the first one Brown got named to the All-Star Game.  My nephew just wanted it. And he was willing to part with his own cash he had saved over the year to get it.

But because he’s a smart kid, we were able to reason with him about how much further his money could go, or how he could get multiple souvenirs, if he passed on the Brown autograph until a later date.  The thing that sealed this deal was my “Uncle Tony Promise” to take him to something this year that he had never heard of called Phillies Phestival.  That sealed it.

Flash forward past the end of summer, the new year, the awful polar vortex of winter 2014 and finally Phillies Phestival was upon us.  While the Phestival is billed as an autograph and auction for ALS, for a kid, it’s really much more than that. There’s lots of activities, a chance to get close to players and alum and of course a chance to buy lots of stuff.  A great value and fun purchase is the “grab bag.”  The station is always manned, er–“womaned” by the lovely Phillies wives and girlfriends.  For twenty bucks it’s a game of chance to pull an item from a tote-bag, worth close to that anyway, that can include a signed ball from a Phillies player.  And wouldn’t you know it?  With the first bag pulled by Jahari Rollins, my nephew scored one of his faves, Dom Brown!  Ghosts of the Cooperstown Memorabilia Shop were exorcized and the outcome delivered a nice life lesson just minutes into the Phestival.

So of course, when given the choice to move on to other activities, my nephew opted for another Grab Bag. (Gambling runs in my family!).  And low an behold who does he pull this time for his hard earned $20?

A minor leaguer no one ever heard of.  Another great lesson for a ten year old.  There is a reason they call them “games of chance.”  So we moved on to the autograph portion of the day.  Like every kid that loves baseball, he had his favorties and he was able to move to many station throughout the park and use the autograph tickets the Phillies issue by number.  You don’t know the player until the day of the Phestival, just the number.

Thanks to some really great exchanges with players and coaches that might not have topped his list when he got to CBP that day his list of favorites got bigger.  Marlon Byrd, Charlie Manuel, Jake DIekman, John Mayberry Jr, Larry Bowa, Jonathon Petibone, Juan Samuel, and Phillies Official Photographer Miles Kennedy to name a few, all put enough genuine enthusiasm into their part of the day, that each of their fan clubs got bigger by one ten year old and his friends and family that will hear the story all summer.  Another great lesson; there’s more to root for than who has the best stats.

The Phillies added another part to Phillies Phestival this year, the chance to be on the field and throw in the dugout.  For ten bucks kids got 5 pitches and the memory of a lifetime.  One of the best parts of the day was a hundred kids lined up in the outfield, waiting their turn, pretending to catch balls against the Citizens Park fence.

The last lesson was mine.  I have covered Phillies Phestival for many years for PHL17 and I learned this lesson year two, but it’s reinforced every year.  ALS is a terrible, terrible disease. At the end of the Phestval the media are permitted to see the meet and greet the Phillies have with the players and ALS patients in the media room and locker rooms.  The Phillies are great at this part as well.  All of them.  The Phillies welcome some of the same patients from the previous year and you can see in just a short year the devastation this disease takes on those living with it.  It’s the hardest part of what is a great, great event.

Since you don’t know the players you will get in the autograph portion of the day, just numbered tickets, I printed out some over-sized prints of photos I have taken over the years of the players I thought would be there.  He only pulled one of these, (Marlon Byrd), but it was neat for me to pull some “greatest hits” from my archive and great for my nephew to be able to use my photos for his signatures.  Maybe more next year…