Even with all the turnover on the roster over the past year, Pirates players have remained interested in giving back to the community. Many of the young players called up and those acquired from other organizations took little time in getting involved with the local outreach programs.
"It's really been impressive to me to see the interest and the enthusiasm that some of our newer players have for being involved in the community," said Patty Paytas, the vice president of community and public affairs for the Pirates. "I think what people will see more are people like Paul Maholm and Zach Duke, who have been here but have been in the background because others have been doing things. They have been doing tremendous things. It's phenomenal."
Maholm's support of the Gilda's Club of Western Pennsylvania and Duke's dedication in hosting numerous groups of children from the Pittsburgh Projects at PNC Park are just two of the player-driven initiatives that could be highlighted from dozens.
By the end of 2009, Pirates Charities, the philanthropic arm of the organization, will have put more than $1.2 million into the communities around Pittsburgh, Bradenton, Fla., and in the Dominican Republic since 2006.
Among those projects spearheaded by Pirates Charities in 2009 was the aid offered to the Madre Laura School, which is located near the club's new baseball academy in the Dominican Republic. Pirates Charities gave the school $125,000 for renovations and equipment, and buses and computers were also donated. As part of an effort to sustain a long-term partnership with the school, the Pirates are right now helping to fund a Christmas party for the children at the school next month.
"That all comes from [Pirates owner] Bob Nutting," said Paytas, noting that this was the first international project that Pirates Charities has been involved with. "No matter where we have a baseball presence, we also want to have a community presence. That's just as important as the baseball side."
One of Pirates Charities' newest initiatives in 2009 proved to be one of the most successful. Adopting an idea from the Minnesota Twins, Pirates Charities began the Fields for Kids programs, which matches grants between $1,000-5,000 for renovations to baseball and softball fields in community in and around Pittsburgh. By the end of the year, more than 27 grants will have been matched by Pirates Charities and $107,000 will have been dispersed among 14 surrounding counties for such renovations.
This past year also saw two significant projects in the Pittsburgh area come to fruition. With the help of a $150,000 donation from Pirates Charities and a gift of $50,000 from second baseman Freddy Sanchez, the Miracle League Field opened in southwest Pennsylvania to serve children with special needs.
Renovations to the Josh Gibson Field in the Hill District of Pittsburgh were also completed in 2009. This field now serves an inner-city baseball program for hundreds of kids.
The Pirates also stepped up in a tremendous way at the beginning of the season in order to raise money for the families of three Pittsburgh police officers who were killed in the line of duty in early April. Through an auction and donations, the Pirates raised more than $76,000 for the Fallen Heroes Fund.
While the Pirates' Major League players may be the most visible in the community, players at all levels in the organization were heavily involved in outreach work this year. As part of the Pirates' Community Commitment Program, every player at every level in the Pirates' system put in at least 10 hours of community service work during the 2009 season.
The Pirates are gearing up to give back to the local community in a few other ways before the end of the year. Next week, members of the front office and Pirates alumni are scheduled to serve breakfast at the Light of Life Rescue Mission. On Dec. 12, the Pirates will host a holiday party at PNC Park for Miracle League children, with Pirates pitcher Ross Ohlendorf and the Pirate Parrot scheduled to attend.
And for two weeks leading up to Christmas, the organization plans to collect clothing donations for the Madre Laura School and canned goods for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.