To say the Pirates were enthusiastically received when they visited Pittsburgh Spring Hill K-5 Elementary School on Tuesday morning would be a massive understatement.
As two buses filled with manager Clint Hurdle, all of his players and coaches, plus several club officials pulled up in front of the school, the walkway leading to the building was lined with students who were wearing pirate eye patches, chanting "Let's Go Bucs," and proudly displaying signs they colored themselves that carried messages such as "We Are Family Again," "Andrew McCutchen 22 For MVP" and "Raise The Jolly Roger."
Clearly, it hadn't escaped these kids that the Pirates are having an outstanding season that could result in the National League Central title and a spot in the playoffs.
One of the buses that made its way to Spring Hill Elementary also carried three other important passengers: Vera Clemente -- the widow of Pirates great Roberto Clemente -- and two of the couple's three sons, Luis and Enrique. The school visit was part of Major League Baseball's annual Clemente Day festivities, which celebrate the life and community service legacy of the Hall of Fame outfielder.
Once everyone was inside the school, the children in third through fifth grade attended an assembly that was emceed by Pirates broadcaster Tim Neverett. The players stood in the front of the crowded auditorium decked out in gold Pirates jerseys and were introduced one by one. Neverett purposely neglected to mention McCutchen, Pittsburgh's All-Star center fielder and one of the leading candidates for the NL Most Valuable Player Award this year, who was standing right in the center of the room.
"I guess that's everybody. Did I forget anyone?" Neverett asked.
To that, the students immediately screamed in unison, "Andrew McCutchen!"
A bit later, Luis Clemente told the audience that McCutchen has been selected as the Pirates' 2013 Roberto Clemente Award nominee in recognition of his outstanding skills on the field and his devoted work in the community. McCutchen will now join 29 other players -- one from every club -- and be eligible to win the Clemente Award, which will be presented during the World Series.
"Andrew is someone who has devoted countless hours to Pirates Charities, Habitat for Humanity and the Pittsburgh Promise," Luis Clemente said. "He has also spent an incredible amount of time with kids in the greater Pittsburgh area and with inner-city youth baseball."
Todd Van Horn, the principal at Spring Hill Elementary, shared with his students that he once had the opportunity to meet another Pirates Hall of Famer -- Willie Stargell -- and he also attempted to frame how special it was to have the team and the Clementes at their school.
"To have these 40 men here today, while they're chasing first place and maybe going to the World Series this year, is a very special thing," Van Horn said. "You'll never ever forget this. You'll remember these guys up here for the rest of your lives.
"To have the Clemente family here in Pittsburgh is an honor, and to have the Clemente family here in Spring Hill is indescribable. Thank you for coming to our school. It's great to share this day with you and our first-place Pirates."
When it was Hurdle's turn at the microphone, the skipper delivered an important message about Roberto Clemente, who played long before the Spring Hill students became Pirates fans, and died on New Year's Eve in 1972 while attempting to transport relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
"We are here today to honor the life and accomplishments of Roberto Clemente," Hurdle said. "He created a special bond that you can only have through greatness and through making a difference in the lives of others. We have quotes of his throughout our ballpark. He was involved in much more than the game of baseball. He was involved in the lives of others, and he made a difference in the lives of others."
The assembly had already created a lot of excitement by that point, but the Pirates saved the best part for last.
Parked out in front of the school, behind the buses, was a U-Haul truck that contained $40,000 in school supplies and equipment that was purchased for Spring Hill Elementary by Pirates Charities. Included were 70 iPads, book bags -- which were hand delivered to the students by the players -- Pirates jerseys, Roberto Clemente books and much more.
Also that morning, the Pirates Wives Organization visited classrooms and read to the children in kindergarten through second grade. The wives also donated a portable bookcase filled with books for the school's library.
"This is a special day that is recognized throughout the game of baseball," Hurdle said. "We're happy to be here. We're honored to be here. We want to let you know we care about you. The players here play for each other and they also play for the city of Pittsburgh. Thank you for this opportunity. Have a great day at school, and come out and root on your Bucs. Root us up."
Jim Lachimia is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less