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Bucs' season of giving never ends

Bucs' season of giving never ends

PITTSBURGH -- With sweatshirts caked in plaster, tools in hand, and masks on faces, 16 members of the Pirates organization and FOX Sports Net Pittsburgh spent last Thursday teaming up with Pittsburgh's Habitat for Humanity chapter to work on a home for a deserving local family.

The house, which is one of nine that Habitat for Humanity plans to build along a road in Westwood, Pa., in the next year, is expected to be finished by Christmas. And with the plans calling for drywall plaster on Thursday, members of the Pirates organization left their mark -- literally -- on the home.

Among those lending a hand for six hours were former Pirates closer Kent Tekulve, FSN personality Rob King, Pirates broadcaster Bob Walk and Patty Paytas, Pirates vice president of community and public affairs. The Pirate Parrot also made an appearance.

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"The Pirates have a little bit of a reputation for giving back to the community, and maybe it's even more important that we give back now," Walk said. "It's a way to show appreciation to the people of Pittsburgh for coming out and supporting us even when the on-field results aren't there."

"The Pirates have an initiative to give back to the community, and I enjoy doing things like this," added Tekulve, who was plastering the ceiling despite undergoing major back surgery just three weeks ago. "If I wasn't here, I'd be doing some handy project around my home anyway."

This is just one of the numerous projects the organization undertook in 2008, in what was another year of unprecedented giving to the community. By the end of the year, Pirates Charities, the organization's philanthropic arm, will distribute over $400,000 in grants to support projects and programs that affect Pittsburgh and its outlying communities.

Pirates Charities raised those funds through five fundraisers this year. One of the most popular was the Pirates Charities on FSN Auction, during which $65,000 was raised as FSN hosted a live auction during a Pirates telecast in July.

The money raised from that event will go toward the construction costs of the Pirates Charities Miracle League Field, a field built and designed for children with special needs. Pirates Charities has committed $200,000 to the endeavor. Of that, $50,000 will come from second baseman Freddy Sanchez.

The largest charity event of the year was the third annual Pirates Charities Golf Classic, which raised $114,000.

The money raised by Pirates Charities events went to a variety of other endeavors as well. Among those included renovating Josh Gibson Field in Pittsburgh, purchasing a bus for the Boys & Girls Club of Manatee County in Florida, and revitalizing the Pirates Community Baseball Center for use by the Boys & Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania.

"Nothing is a tough sell with this group," Paytas said. "It's really a top-down initiative. We all participate as a team, from owner Bob Nutting to members of the front office to players. It's really encouraged within this organization."

While the Pirates Charities fundraisers are spearheaded by the front office, a number of player-driven initiatives were also continued or created this season. The most well-known of those was the "Bowling with the Bucs" event, which shortstop Jack Wilson and his wife, Julie, hosted this year for the fourth time. The event raised $23,000 for the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Greater Pennsylvania and Southern West Virginia.

Outfielder Nate McLouth hosted 13 local children during each homestand of the season as part of his "Nate's Lucky 13" program. Pitcher Ian Snell continued to host local members from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, giving them the opportunity to play catch with him and watch batting practice from down on the field, among other things.

Doug Mientkiewicz and his wife, Jodi, immediately expressed interest in inviting local military families to PNC Park. The Mientkiewiczs, who have a nephew currently serving overseas, twice hosted members of the military and their families for home games.

Other players took advantage of opportunities to serve members of the community through events such as: Buses for Baseballs, a program that buses underprivileged children in for games; a Build-a-Bear workshop for 20 children from the Homeless Children's Initiative; Barbecue with the Bucs to raise money for the Gilda's Club of Western Pennsylvania; and various visits to local elementary schools, among other programs.

And the giving isn't done just yet. During the month of December, the Pirates will host a holiday party at PNC Park with children from Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Also, members of the front office will team up with Del Monte to serve breakfast to the homeless for a week as part of the Light of Life Rescue Mission.

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

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