PHILADELPHIA -- An autograph from Jimmy Rollins wasn't enough for the cowgirl. She wanted to touch the writing implement, too. When Rollins not only obliged but gave her his Sharpie, the cowgirl shook excitedly and rubbed it over her face.
"That was the funniest thing," Rollins said. "Having her react like that over a pen made it all worth it."
Securing a new pen, Rollins finished greeting the roughly 300 young cancer patients at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who also spent the day dancing and playing games.
As part of the event, co-hosted annually by the Phillies and Rollins, the team provides goodie bags, clowns, face-painting and bobblehead dolls.
Rollins was pinch-hitting for Mike Lieberthal, who had hosted the event for the past eight years. Free agent Lieberthal is preparing for his wedding next weekend in California, and sent a message of thanks that was read by team president David Montgomery.
Lieberthal, who had hosted the party since 1998, began his "Lieby's VIPs" charity program that same year. Each season he purchases more than $30,000 in Phillies tickets that are then donated to patients and their families. He and his teammates have made several visits to Children's Hospital over the years and have also taken part in a radio telethon to raise funds for the Children's Miracle Network, which is run locally through Children's Hospital.
"This is the culmination of the committment that the players make," Montgomery said. "We hope [the Halloween party] will continue."
The Phillies have been sponsoring the event for the past 13 years, raising more than $50,000 total. It started with John Kruk, a cancer survivor himself. Mickey Morandini took over, then Lieberthal. Should Lieberthal not return to the Phillies in 2007, a new host will be announced in Spring Training.
Rollins enjoyed being part of the day.
"That's what teammates are for," he said. "It wasn't about Lieberthal, or about me. It's about the kids. That made my decision [to come] easy. We're supposed to be here for the community, and these kids are going through a situation that I would never want to go through, and their parents are going through a tough situation. When we get a chance to alleviate a little bit of that stress, it's a good thing."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.