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ALS Association Chapters Highlight Partnerships with Major and Minor League Baseball Teams

October 23, 2013

Alliances Help to Spread ALS Awareness, Build Support for Cause, around the Country

ALS Association chapters continued their partnerships with Major and Minor League Baseball teams around the U.S. to spread ALS awareness to the game’s tens of millions of fans, including awareness of the National ALS Registry and the connection between ALS and military service. These were major themes of the more than 30 events that chapters held with professional baseball teams this season. Some chapters saw their names on stadium Jumbotrons, while others spread the word by participating in game day television and radio broadcasts.

“We’re honored to continue to work with both Major and Minor League Baseball teams across the country,” said Jane Gilbert, President & CEO of The ALS Association. “These partnerships provide our chapters with tremendous opportunities to educate and inform baseball fans about the effects this devastating disease has on people and their families.”

As an official charity of Minor League Baseball, chapters and teams were provided materials and resources to promote and increase awareness of the National ALS Registry during the 2013 season.  This included a new PSA featuring former Major League Baseball great Tommy John speaking about the National ALS Registry and his connection to the disease through Catfish Hunter.  Teams and chapters were also provided camouflage stress balls and “Strikeout ALS” banners to spread awareness.

Mid-Atlantic and New England Regions

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Albert and Tracey Weech getting ready to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Buffalo Bisons/Toledo Mud Hens game. Image courtesy of the Upstate New York Chapter

For 24 years, the Philadelphia Phillies have collaborated with the Greater Philadelphia Chapter for the annual Phillies Phestival in the City of Brotherly Love. This year’s event, attended by nearly 7,000, raised an amazing $860,732. More than $14.3 million has been raised in the fight against ALS since the chapter joined forces with the Phillies and Phillies Charities, Inc., in 1984. Monies gathered went toward care services programs in the chapter’s region.  At the Phestival, families living with Lou Gehrig’s Disease were able to participate in a private “meet and greet” with the team’s players, while other attendees partook in games and had the chance to visit photo booths and autograph stations.

Also in the Greater Philadelphia Chapter’s service area, the Lakewood BlueClaws had their 13th Annual Celebrity Waiter Event where players and coaches served as waiters and bartenders at the local T.G.I. Fridays. The event raised more than $6,500. In addition, the chapter co-hosted an auction with the Minor League team the Reading Phillies and a hat auction with the Camden Riversharks. Earlier in the season, the Lancaster Barnstormers hosted the LeSean McCoy Celebrity Softball Game.

North of Philadelphia, New Yorkers had opportunities to learn about ALS at games with Minor League teams, the Brooklyn Cyclones, Hudson Valley Renegades, and Staten Island Yankees. The Greater New York Chapter hosted information booths at these events, which was attended by the chapter’s constituents.

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ALS Awareness Night at Fenway Park – (From L to R) – The 2013 Boston Marathon group, Team ALSMA: Mick Blosser, Kathleen Toto, Executive Director-Lynn Aaronson, Molly Levitt, Karen Carr, Melissa Blascsyk. Image courtesy of the Massachusetts Chapter

Other Minor League teams from the Empire State worked with the Upstate New York Chapter. These teams included the Tri-City ValleyCats, Buffalo Bisons, Rochester Redwings and Syracuse Chiefs. Former Major League Baseball great Tommy John posed with the Chiefs’ manager, Tony Beasley, and Patrick Sullivan, Sr., and son Patrick on the field. Sullivan, Sr. is living with ALS.

In New England, the Rhode Island Chapter handed out 50 complimentary tickets to the families they serve for the Pawtucket Red Sox/Toledo Mud Hens game on June 25. Chapter Executive Director Nancy Feroldi said the Walk to Defeat ALS® PSA appeared on the stadium’s Jumbotron during the game.

Another team with the name “Red Sox”— this one in Boston— also welcomed a fellow chapter from this region into its stadium for ALS Awareness Night. On May 28, two people with ALS, Sheila O’Connell and Bill Swain, were announced during the game’s opening ceremonies, while on center field. According to Lynn Aaronson, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Chapter, Boston Marathon participants who collectively raised more than $40,000 this year for the chapter were also introduced on center field.  The chapter also had representation from Kristen Ford, daughter of Care Services Coordinator Jan Obermann, who sang the National Anthem.

Southern States

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Diane and Michael Bennett being honored on the field at Astros Stadium Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. Image courtesy of the Texas Chapter

The Louisville Bats held three ALS awareness events during this season, featured an awareness ad in their game day program, and helped host the Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar in September. Representatives from the Kentucky Chapter appeared on local TV to discuss ALS Awareness Night, which took place on Memorial Day and coincided with Military Appreciation Day. Before the Louisville Bats played the Columbus Clippers at Louisville’s Slugger Field, a reporter from the ABC affiliate WHAS 11 interviewed chapter Care Services Coordinator Patricia Peak and chapter constituent, Joe Wise. Wise, who is an Air Force veteran and has had ALS since 2007, mentioned that veterans are twice as likely to develop Lou Gehrig’s Disease and told viewers a few facts about ALS during the news segment. Wise’s children participated in the ceremonial first pitch.  The Bats highlighted the chapter’s Louisville Walk on its scoreboard during home games from April 18 to May 10. In addition, Bats’ radio host Matt Andrews interviewed chapter President Shawn Mullennex during another ALS Night on July 31. The Bats showed a Lou Gehrig video on the scoreboard and handed out camouflage baseballs for ALS awareness, and a chapter representative threw out the ceremonial pre-game pitch that evening as well as in April.

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ALS Awareness Night with the Tampa Bay Rays: Darrell Brown poses with his daughter and granddaughter. Image courtesy of the Florida Chapter

Further south, another ALS family helped to spread awareness of the disease in their community. At Astros Stadium Minute Maid Park in Houston, Diane Bennett, who lives with the disease, and her husband Michael Bennett, both of whom work with the Texas Chapter, were honored on the field before the September 17 Astros/Cincinnati Reds game. In addition, the chapter hosted an information booth that presented information about the Walk to Defeat ALS in Houston/The Woodlands, passed out red ALS awareness wristbands to attendees, and saw the Walk to Defeat PSA shown on the stadium’s Jumbotron.

Several Minor League teams in the Sunshine State, including the Jupiter Hammerheads, Ft. Myers Miracle and Clearwater Threshers, welcomed the Florida Chapter and the families they serve to their games. In addition, the Tampa Bay Rays hosted ALS awareness activities at Tropicana Field on August 25.

In South Carolina, the South Carolina Chapter saw one of its constituents, Jim Burrows, throw out the first pitch at the Charleston RiverDogs game this summer.

Across the Midwest

The Cleveland Indians hosted its annual ALS Awareness Night with the Northern Ohio Chapter on August 23. The Indians donated 200 tickets to the chapter, which were used as a “thank you” to those who attended Walk to Defeat ALS Kick-Off events in Akron and Cleveland. Also, the Indians contributed one of the game’s ceremonial first pitches as the Grand Prize for the Akron-Canton Walk’s Team Week. Chapter Executive Director Mary Wheelock said Tom Nichols, a lifelong Indians fan who recently joined the Akron Walk Committee as the Site Coordinator, was awarded with this opportunity. Nichols has been captain of his Walk team, “Team Nichols,” for several years; he lost his father to ALS in 2011.

“For Tom, the opportunity to throw out the first pitch while honoring his father’s memory was truly priceless,” said Wheelock.

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Actor re-enacting Lou Gehrig’s speech at Omaha Storm Chasers game. Image courtesy of the Keith Worthington Chapter

Earlier in the summer the Keith Worthington Chapter partnered with the Omaha Storm Chasers and the Kansas City Royals. An actor re-enacted Lou Gehrig’s famous “Luckiest Man” speech during “Gehrig Night” on July 2 to raise ALS awareness during the Storm Chasers/New Orleans Zephyrs game, while the Royals did a fundraiser for the chapter during a home game, which raised more than $1,000.

The Iowa Chapter continued their long standing partnership with the Quad Cities River Bandits, Iowa Cubs, and Cedar Rapids Kernels hosting awareness games with all three teams.

The Minnesota/North Dakota/South Dakota Chapter also received funds from the Major League team in their market, the Minnesota Twins, and Carrier from the “Strike Out ALS” program in late September. According to Kristin Skaar, the chapter’s Special Events Coordinator, at the beginning of each season, participants make a pledge to donate for each home game strikeout by the Twins. “Working together, Carrier and the Twins donate $10,000 in sponsorship of this program and also provide a strikeout ‘K’ counter at Target Field,” she says.  Two other events highlighted ALS awareness at the team’s stadium, Target Field, this season. At one, more than 30 people with Lou Gehrig’s Disease and their families were recognized on the field before the May 14 game. The second event involved former Twins players Kent Hrbek and Tim Laudner. Participants, volunteers and sponsors of the chapter’s annual snowmobile ride fundraiser, the Black Woods Blizzard Tour, mingled with Laudner and Hrbek in mid-September. Hrbek helped to sell autographed baseballs and raffle tickets to fans as they entered the stadium, while raising funds for the chapter.

The St. Louis Regional Chapter held three events in conjunction with "Strike out ALS."  The chapter partnered with the Frontier League, an independent baseball league in the Midwest, to hold awareness nights with three of their teams in May: River City Rascals (O’Fallon, Mo.) on May 25; Gateway Grizzlies (Sauget, Ill.) on July 2; and Southern Illinois Miners (Marion, Ill.) on May 30. 

On each night, a person with ALS or staff member threw out the first pitch and the chapter had an information table that patrons could visit. In all, The St. Louis Regional Chapter was able to reach nearly 1,000 people through these events.

Pacific Northwest/West Coast

Out West, the Golden West Chapter teamed up with the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s along with the Minor League’s Fresno Grizzlies. At the Grizzlies game, which took place on Independence Day, the team paid homage to the 74th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s retirement from baseball. Game attendees watched a special on field presentation and learned more about ALS and the ALS Registry. More than 500 stress baseballs were thrown out to fans to commemorate the evening and to underscore the large number of veterans facing ALS. Throughout the night, many videos about the disease and the chapter’s activities were shown on the scoreboard. The following week the Giants hosted an ALS awareness event where they honored people with the disease on the field at AT&T Park. Similar activities occurred in nearby Oakland on July 27, where chapter events were promoted on the stadium’s scoreboard. Guests also had the opportunity to bid on A’s and other baseball memorabilia for a silent auction during the game’s first half. 100 percent of the auction’s proceeds went to the chapter.

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Mike and Carol Munson and their family along with volunteers and the Tri-City Dust Devil mascot spreading ALS awareness in Pasco, Wash. Image courtesy of the Evergreen Chapter.

The Tri-City Dust Devils promoted ALS awareness by allowing the Evergreen Chapter to host an information booth at their event. The first 500 fans were welcomed at the entrance with camouflage baseballs. Mike Munson, who receives services from the chapter, and his wife Carol and their family threw out the first pitch at the Devils game in Pasco, Wash. on July 11.  The Devils also promoted the chapter’s Tri-Cities Walk to Defeat ALS, which occurred on September 7.   The Idaho Falls [Idaho] Chukars promoted awareness of the disease with PA announcements and also handed out camouflage baseballs on their fan appreciation night.

The New Mexico Chapter held multiple events with the Albuquerque Isotopes again this season.  The Isotopes have supported the chapter is raising awareness during games and hosting the Walk in Albuquerque.

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Lou Gehrig® used with permission of the Rip Van Winkle Foundation / www.LouGehrig.com