PHILADELPHIA -- Jennifer Utley, wife of Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, remembers how the couple's annual Utley All-Star Animals Casino Night had its beginning.
"When I first came to Philadelphia in 2007," said Jennifer, a native of San Francisco whose family had ties to the City of Brotherly Love, "I wanted to do something to help the community outside of baseball.
"I've always loved animals, so I decided to volunteer at the Pennsylvania SPCA."
She began by walking many of the homeless dogs and cleaning their cages.
"And there were some things Jen saw she really didn't like," said Chase. "So, being that I grew up around animals and Jen always was close to them, we decided this would be the cause we wanted to work with."
The sixth annual Utley All-Star Animals Casino Night, held Wednesday evening at The Electric Factory, a noted concert venue just north of Center City, attracted many of Utley's Phillies teammates, who mixed with many of the event's sponsors and invited guests for a fun evening.
On the serious side, the event welcomed guests to take a stand against animal cruelty. In the previous five years it raised nearly $1.5 million to support the Pennsylvania SPCA's Etana Fund to Stop Cruelty Against Animals, which helps prevent and protect against abuse through their Humane Law Enforcement Department.
Etana was the name of a young boxer-mix Jennifer met in 2008 after it had been tortured, beaten and set on fire. Chase and Jennifer took care of the pup's extensive veterinary bills, saw it was nursed back to health and place in a good home. The Casino Night assures such efforts will continue.
"We're very proud of this event," said Jennifer. "Our sponsors have been great [the top being J&J Snack Foods Corporation and Schreiber Animal Foundation Enterprise] and everything has been a win-win for the community and the Phillies."
Guests compete at casino-type games along with Phillies players and officials, with the top three overall prizes being a $10,000 shopping spree at Bernie Robbins Jewelers, a complete home-entertainment package from HiFi House and a Kimpton Getaway Package that includes a stay at the Hotel Monaco in Philadelphia and dinner for two at the Red Owl Tavern.
Jennifer and Chase also formed the Utley Foundation in 2011, with a mission to educate the community about the proper treatment of animals and fund non-profit organizations that are active in the fight against animal neglect, pain and suffering.
Over the years, the Phillies and their players have given to the community as much as any organization in Major League Baseball. The Phillies players embrace it.
"I know my teammates enjoy this," said Chase. "It's good for us as a team, participating in something like this in the community outside baseball."
"Our players and their families, including Chase and Jen, are involved in many charitable causes, and our players look to help each other in these endeavors," said Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. "We enjoy this event every year."
Backup catcher Eric Kratz, who has been with the Phillies since 2011, noticed how the organization approaches charitable functions in the community.
"Chase and Jen, along with a lot of the other guys and their families, are giving back to the community at events like this," said Kratz. "It's a cause just about everyone can identify with."
Chase and Jen Utley were front-and-center Wednesday evening. Smiling most were the representatives of the Pennsylvania SPCA, who have one of Pennsylvania's most-recognizable names in their corner.
Jed Weisberger is a contributor to MLB.com.