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Fan with cystic fibrosis gets VIP experience

UMPS CARE Charities, Casey Cares Foundation give boy, family a special day at Citizens Bank Park
MLB.com

PHILADELPHIA -- From the day he was born, Jake Duffy has dealt with challenges. But you wouldn't know it, especially not Sunday, when the 7-year-old and his family stepped foot on the lush Citizens Bank Park grass.

Making new friends is nothing new for Duffy, whether he's in the hospital due to complications of cystic fibrosis or standing among Major League umpires and mascots, as he did before the Phillies played the Brewers.

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PHILADELPHIA -- From the day he was born, Jake Duffy has dealt with challenges. But you wouldn't know it, especially not Sunday, when the 7-year-old and his family stepped foot on the lush Citizens Bank Park grass.

Making new friends is nothing new for Duffy, whether he's in the hospital due to complications of cystic fibrosis or standing among Major League umpires and mascots, as he did before the Phillies played the Brewers.

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The event, set up by UMPS CARE Charities (the official non-profit of Major League umpires) and the Casey Cares Foundation, was the latest effort to bring terminally ill children and their families to ballparks across America.

Casey Cares works with families of kids with terminal illnesses, from the time they learn about the diagnosis, through the child's lifespan and beyond, when the charity continues to work with the family.

"We work with the families to provide activities that are uplifting and provide lasting memories for them," said Amy Rosewater, the director of communications for the Casey Cares Foundation.

Jake has not had a hospital stay for two years, a rarity for someone with his diagnosis.

"He makes friends with the nurses," Duffy's mom, Amy Franchi, said.

Duffy's Sunday began in the umpires' lounge, trying on home-plate umpire Gary Cederstrom's mask and choosing from the assorted shelves of sweets. The umps were impressed that Duffy went straight for a banana.

With his four new black-clad friends in tow, Duffy met the Galapagos Gang -- inflatable, wacky friends of the Phillie Phanatic.

"I'm going to remember the blow-up guys," Duffy said.

Tweet from @CaseyCares: The @MLB umpires made all the right calls for Casey Cares kid Jake & his family today before the @Phillies game! @UmpsCare #cysticfibrosis pic.twitter.com/H9WzWBXoOy

He also met former Phillies World Series-winning manager Charlie Manuel.

"It's rewarding to put a smile on his face to share his experience with him," said Adrian Johnson, the second-base umpire. "We're all blessed in different ways, so to be a blessing for Jacob and his family and share this time is huge. I think that's something that we have to do, we need to do that, and we enjoy doing it. With UMPS CARE, that's what we're about."

Duffy also blessed the umpires with perspective and a lasting memory.

"I've had hospital visits where right now I can recall seeing the kid's face," Johnson said. "I have three girls at home who are relatively healthy and you go into these hospitals and you see kids, it does stick with you."

The umpires love and appreciate these events as much as the kids.

"Jake and his brother Justin weren't thinking about going to the hospital, they didn't have to worry about that. They have everything planned for them. ... That makes such a difference to these families," Rosewater said. "[The umps] definitely made the right call today with our kids and our families."

Ben Harris is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Phillies