Pirates' tradition of giving continues

Pirates' tradition of giving continues

PITTSBURGH -- On the playing field, the Pittsburgh Pirates' players are constantly under the microscope. Their every move is analyzed. Their every statistic is charted and preserved forever in the baseball archives.

What the Pirates' players do when they are not at the ballpark often goes unnoticed, unless it's controversial. It's unfortunate that charitable deeds can't be tabulated in the same way as baseball statistics, because the Pirates would have more than a handful of players eligible for the Good Guys Hall of Fame.

When it comes to giving back to the community, the Pirates don't take a back seat to anyone. They've been particularly generous in giving their time and resources to children's charities and programs.

In the last year alone, the Pirates helped to refurbish two Little League baseball fields for the "Field of Dreams" program, staged an equipment drive for the Baseball Tomorrow Fund to benefit the Boys and Girls Club, hosted a holiday party for the Make-A-Wish children, held five youth baseball skills workshops at PNC Park, teamed up with the Pirates wives to participate in the Homeless Children's Initiative and the West Penn Summer Camp for Burned Children, volunteered for the "Pirates Tales" summer reading program at Carnegie Library, and helped needy children pick out new clothes as part of Project Bundle Up.

"We are proud of all the community events that we participate in, and are pleased that we can be a part of such great events," said Pirates community relations manager Michelle Mejia. "We are especially proud of our charity, which started this past season -- Pirates Charities."

Mejia described Pirates Charities as a newly defined philanthropic arm of the organization with an emphasis on strengthening the community by supporting organizations and programs aimed at improving the lives of children and adults in the greater Pittsburgh area.

In the first official act of Pirates Charities, the Pirates have partnered with the Boys and Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania to help renovate a dilapidated indoor swimming pool into a state-of-the-art, year-round youth baseball training complex to be named the Pirates Community Baseball Center. Pirates Charities have donated $165,000 to the project, which is expected to cost approximately $300,000 to complete.

"One of our most important organizational goals is to make a positive impact in our community," said Pirates CEO and managing general partner Kevin McClatchy. "While we have a great tradition of being active in the community, we hope Pirates Charities will help us to do even more.

"We hope this is the first of many such projects that will make a dramatic difference in our community."

Another of the Pirates' marquee charity events is the "Bowling with the Bucs" tournament. Created by shortstop Jack Wilson in 2005 as a way to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Southern West Virginia, the "Bowling with the Bucs" tournament allows fans to bowl with their favorite Pirates in exchange for donations. The second annual tournament had 200 participants and raised $27,000 for Make-A-Wish, including a generous donation by Wilson and his wife, Julie.

"The fans are able to come out and meet their favorite players, and we raise a lot of money for a great organization," said Wilson.

"It's fun for me to do that stuff. It's always nice to go out there, interact with the fans, and at the same time earn money for a great cause like Make-A-Wish. Kids are everything. Kids are the future of this country and the future of this world. You want to do anything you can do to help the ones who aren't so fortunate, just to see a smile on their face."

Wilson was again the Pirates player who was most active in the community last season. For his charitable efforts, Wilson has been selected as the Pirates' local recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award for each of the past two years. The award, named for the legendary Bucs right fielder who lost his life in 1972 while trying to deliver relief supplies to Nicaragua after that country was devastated by an earthquake, recognizes the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team.

Wilson was certainly not alone in his philanthropic endeavors, as many of the Pirates players participated in a variety of community service activities. Paul Maholm volunteered his time for the Allegheny County Special Olympics and served as the Honorary Chairman of the 2006 Leukemia and Lymphoma Society "Hop-A-Thon." Nate McLouth, Ian Snell, Jose Bautista, Ronny Paulino, Matt Capps and coaches Jeff Cox and Jeff Manto participated in youth skills workshops at PNC Park. Snell, Capps, Mike Gonzalez, Zach Duke and Salomon Torres teamed up with broadcasters Steve Blass and Greg Brown for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation 65 Roses Club. Jason Bay has become involved with the Ronald McDonald House of Pittsburgh, and McClatchy was a co-chair of the Muscular Dystrophy Association's Muscle Team Event.

"We have a great group of players who are eager and excited to volunteer in the community," Mejia said.

The Pirates' team-wide spirit of community service is not limited to the players. The front-office employees are also very active. In addition to participating in the Race for the Cure annual breast cancer initiative, Pirates staff members served meals to the homeless through the Light of Life program and provided gifts for children through the Salvation Army's Treasure of Children program.

Ed Eagle is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.