Lou Gehrig Day hits home for Phillies Aaron Nola

Philadelphia Phillies baseball team pitcher Aaron Nola takes questions from the media after signing a seven-year contract, Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Lou Gehrig Day is a day of remembrance, love, and support all across Major League Baseball. June 2 is an important date in the historic life and career of the Yankee-great, as Gehrig made the first start of his career on this date back in 1925. That would essentially be the start of a streak of 2,130 consecutive games played for the man who earned the moniker ‘The Iron Horse.’ Sadly, his career would be cut short as a result of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and he would eventually pass on on June 2, 1941.

80 years later, in 2021, MLB commemorated Gehrig with the inaugural Lou Gehrig Day – a day to honor his memory and bring attention to the debilitating disease. ALS causes a progressive loss of the body’s motor neurons, which control voluntary muscle contraction and can impact those diagnosed in different ways and in different time frames.

Philadelphia’s organization is uniquely suited to support the continued fight for support for ALS. Well before the league-wide mission began, the Phillies supported the cause through their team charities and fundraising events. It is now the 40th year that the Phillies have partnered with ALS United Mid-Atlantic to help support and honor those battling this disease. I asked Manager Rob Thomson about the importance of the day to the club:

“It means a lot to the entire organization, We’ve been support ALS awareness for 40 years now and have raised over, I think, $23 million so it’s a big deal to everybody.

Rob Thomson pregame June 2, 2024

Not only has the organization worked for four decades fighting this fight, one of their star players has also been directly impacted. Starting pitcher Aaron Nola’s uncle, Alan Andries, was diagnosed with ALS in 2015. As his uncle went through that battle, Aaron began to educate himself more on the disease. Unfortunately, Nola lost his uncle to ALS in 2021, and Nola has been a critical part of the fight since, raising awareness and money around the country.

Aaron supports the United Mid-Atlantic chapter as one of his many charitable efforts, and he and his brother, fellow major leaguer Austin Nola, have hosted events in their home state of Louisiana raising money and awareness for the cause. MLB.com reporter Paul Casella and I spoke with Aaron prior to today’s game about how important this day is to him.

“It means a lot just because I have a family connection to it…I know how hard it is for family and friends to be around that and see them go through such a terrible disease they can’t do anything about. Getting this out to stadiums and throughout the major leagues, I think it’s really important and I think it’s been really good.

— Aaron Nola, pregame June 2, 2024

Aaron was introduced to the Phillies’ efforts to fight ALS in 2016, and he said the team’s embrace of this cause for so long is “awesome.” Through the organization, he has met several fans and their families who are going through the battle he witnessed so closely. This has allowed Nola to feel more connected and understand how the disease progresses in each person.

When you have family dealing with a degenerative, debilitating disease like ALS, you can often feel like others cannot relate to your struggle and may find it difficult to talk to others who might not understand the fight. Aaron spoke about how important it is to embrace those battling the disease:

“It’s very important – it’s not their fault they got diagnosed with it, right? They haven’t found a cure. We don’t know how or who it effects, so you gotta feel for them. We have to take away and try to put ourselves in their shoes. We got bad days out here [on the field] and we think they’re bad – they’re battling a serious illness and their attitude is better than ours a lot of times. Like, what do we have to complain about on a bad day or a bad outing? They’re the ones fighting a big disease and staying positive through it all .

Aaron Nola with Philly Sports Network, pregame June 2, 2024

The Phillies’ long-standing connection with the disease goes back to the Phillies Phestival, an annual event that included auctions of memorabilia and other Phillies-related merchandise and fundraising attempts. ALS was adopted as the Phillies’ primary charity in 1984, and the fight continues today, spreading across the entire major leagues.

Several baseball personalities have connections to the disease and are at Citizens Bank Park today. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian is a part of tonight’s broadcast. He lost his brother to ALS in 2023. He and his son, Jeff, who is a local country radio host in Philadelphia, hosted a special episode of their podcast at the ballpark earlier today. They spoke about their own experiences and spoke to Nola and Cardinal infielder Brandon Crawford, among others, about how ALS has impacted them and what they are doing to help raise awareness and funds to help fight the disease.

MLB’s Sarah Langs is also in Philadelphia for the game. She was diagnosed with ALS herself, and as a top-notch researcher in the baseball world, she was embraced by the league and immediately became an inspiration for those facing the struggles of this disease.

Through troubling times, it may seem tough to find inspiration, but Aaron has noticed a common theme when meeting families impacted by ALS – positivity and perseverance. He spoke about the inspiration found in families dealing with such an unpredictable, destructive disease:

“I just look at that and take away from them to enjoy every single day. You never know what’s going to happen or what’s going to happen down the line so to be able to talk to them and talk to their families and be around them is pretty special

Aaron Nola with Philly Sports Network pregame June 2, 2024

The first pitch for tonight’s game is expected to be 7:10 p.m. The Phillies’ 50/50 in the ballpark tonight will benefit the team and the league’s ALS-related charities.