Nola, Phillies honor Lou Gehrig Day: 'It means a lot to me'

Former Phillies intern Michael Brown, researcher and reporter Sarah Langs recognized before game

June 2nd, 2024

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies right-hander knows firsthand what it's like to watch a family member deal with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).

He remembers when his uncle, Alan Andries, was diagnosed with ALS in 2015. At that time, Nola immediately immersed himself in the Phillies' mission to Strike Out ALS -- a cause that dates back to 1984 for the organization.

Andries passed away following a six-year battle with ALS in 2021, but Nola remains committed to doing everything he can to raise funds and awareness for the cause.

Prior to Sunday night's game against the Cardinals, Nola and his teammates opened the door to the Phillies' clubhouse to welcome in ALS patients and their families as part of Major League Baseball's fourth annual Lou Gehrig Day. Among those in attendance was Michael Brown, a former marketing intern for the Phillies in 2000 who was diagnosed with ALS earlier this year.

"It was a special moment," said the 43-year-old Brown, who was joined by his wife, Elizabeth, and three children (Emerson, 15; Harper, 11; and Maddux, 12). "I've never been in a clubhouse like that before. Growing up playing baseball, and even playing all through college, I always dreamed that would happen -- but those guys were awesome."

Brown was joined by others impacted with ALS -- including researcher and reporter Sarah Langs -- as they shared their stories with Phillies players and staff. They also took the field pregame, lining up with other afflicted families alongside Phillies players for the national anthem.

"It means a lot to me, especially having a family connection to it," Nola said. "Obviously, I know how hard it is for family and friends to be around that and see them go through such a terrible disease that you can't really do anything about it."

That's one of the hardest parts for Brown.

"My wife is probably having a more difficult time than I am going through this," Brown said. "It sounds odd to say, but for me, I look at it this way: It's easiest on me. I know I'm going through it, but this is a disease that's an undefeated champ. It's never lost."

The Phillies are doing their part to hopefully change that.

Along with the special pregame ceremonies, the team hosted an online Phillies Charities Auction featuring unique memorabilia and experiences, ranging from gear signed by current players to a Tiger Woods-signed flag and Genesis Invitational tickets to electric guitars signed by P!nk and Morgan Wallen.

The Phillies also sold mystery grab bags with autographed items on the concourse Sunday. Between proceeds from the auction and grab bags, as well as Sunday's 50/50 raffle and special Theme Night ticket sales, the Phillies raised $750,004 to help those battling this fatal disease. Overall, the Phillies have helped raise more than $22 million in funds over the past four decades.

"I think it's special to the organization because all you have to do is meet the families and the patients," said John Weber, president of Phillies Charities, Inc. "That's all you have to do, and you'll understand."

"Growing up as a huge Phillies fan and being from the area, it doesn't surprise me,” Brown added. “This organization is very familial. Even from my time as an intern years and years ago, there isn't a cause out there that they wouldn't be willing to get behind and help."

The Phillies are far from alone across Major League Baseball. On the 80th anniversary of Gehrig's death, MLB commemorated the inaugural Lou Gehrig Day on June 2, 2021. That's led to increased awareness, all while MLB and its 30 clubs have supported several ALS-focused organizations over the years.

"Obviously, the Phillies have done it for 40 years, but we could not be more excited that MLB and the other 29 teams have fully joined in this fight," Weber said. "That's spectacular. The awareness and power that MLB will bring to this disease is fantastic."

For Brown, the message he hoped the Phillies took away was simple.

"As hard as your day has been or as hard as a moment seems -- even for me -- I have to understand that somebody out there is struggling worse," Brown said. "What I have is pretty bad -- for people who have this disease, it doesn't get much worse -- but there are always people out there struggling much worse than I am."

That’s a message that certainly resonates with Nola.

"Even when they're dealing with this awful disease, their attitude always seems really good any time I have the chance to meet them or be around them," Nola said. "So I just try to take away from it to enjoy every single day. To be able to talk with them and their families and be around them is pretty special."