Bucs unveil community baseball center

Bucs unveil community baseball center

PITTSBURGH -- The spot where new Pirates chairman Bob Nutting stood Thursday had only about a year ago been near the midway point above a cracked, unusable 50-year-old swimming pool in a musty and decrepit facility with leaky pipes.

On this day however -- one in which the Shadyside Boys & Girls Club unveiled the brand new Pirates Community Baseball Center -- Nutting was standing just a few feet from a practice pitching mound at the newly-christened indoor facility when he was asked if he looked forward to the day in the future when a Pirates draft choice can say he got his start in the sport of baseball at the facility the Pirates helped launch in this Pittsburgh neighborhood.

"Clearly the dream of many of the players at the facility would be to develop into a Major League player," Nutting said in one of his first public appearances since being named principal owner. "But with 2,000 to 3,000 kids a year using this, what I really hope we see is a positive interaction with kids and with adults for self-esteem building. That's for all the kids -- not only the one or two that reach a high level of baseball. I hope that every kid that comes through this facility as a chance to lead an enriched life."

That was the sentiment expressed by many as the first official endeavor of the Pirates new philanthropic arm, Pirates Charities, came to fruition. The $300,000 facility converted about a third of the Shadyside Boys & Girls Club building into a state-of-the-art, year-round baseball and softball training facility.

Pirates charities picked up $165,000 of the cost of two batting cages with automatic pitching machines, skill stations, multi-media training rooms, coaches' offices, equipment storage rooms and more. The Roberto Clemente Foundation and the Baseball Tomorrow Fund (a joint initiative between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association) funded the rest.

"In the time I have been fortunate to be a Pirates broadcaster, I've always been touched by how much this organization cares about the community and cares about giving back," said Lanny Frattare. "I've long believed that baseball does a fabulous job of transcending generations. Today we welcome all of you to remind you this bright facility now devoid of its leaky pipes and weird smell will serve as beacon for generations to come."

Roberto Clemente Jr., was on hand representing the foundation that bears his father's name, as were Pirates CEO Kevin McClatchy, broadcaster Bob Walk, several local politians and, of course, the youth that make up the Shadyside Boys & Girls Club. Several of them took part in batting and pitching practice within minutes of the official opening of the venue, which will become home to Pittsburgh's RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program.

"On a cold day like today, we can be nice and warm inside and see what these kids can enjoy year-round in the sport of baseball," said Chuck Berry, president of the Roberto Clemente Foundation. "It's difficult in Pittsburgh with this kind of weather to maintain interest year-round. This is the type of program allows us to do that."

Mike Hepler, President and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania, said the organization had been struggling to find a new use for the large room that previously housed the old pool since it became structurally unstable more than five years ago.

Not wanting to simply patch up the problems with a quick fix, Hepler was elated to hear the Pirates were willing to pitch in to help.

"A lot of the kids we deal with sit on a figurative fence," Hepler said. "The streets pull one way, and the Boys & Girls Club pulls the other way. Most cases, we win. If you don't win, those are normally the kids you read about in the newspaper.

"The kids tell you what they want. Sports programs draw them in. And once you get them into the fold with sports, you can integrate them into other skill-building and life-enriching activities. That's what we're in the business of doing."

The pitching machines can hold as many as 400 baseballs or 200 softballs throwing at speeds of up to 85 mph. The pitching mound can be moved back to the Major League distance of 60 feet, 6 inches, or it can be placed at a Little League distance. Girls will be just as welcome as boys; softball will be encouraged at the facility.

"The Baseball Tomorrow fund's mission is to help organizations like this one provide more opportunities for boys and girls to learn and enjoy the game in a safe and quality facility like this one," said executive director of The Baseball Tomorrow Fund Cathy Bradley. "It's especially meaningful for me to be here to see this as a result."

Nutting said that although the Pirates had always been heavily involved in community ventures, the club joined other teams in forming a defined charitable arm to their organization last year in Pirates Charities.

"The Pirates have been an important part of the Pittsburgh region for 120 years," Nutting said. "We always strive for absolute excellence in everything we've done, on the field, off the field and in the community. This is shown by the way we give back."

Chris Adamski is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.