Pirates donate to Miracle League
Sanchez, club help build ballpark for special-needs kids
PITTSBURGH -- Luke Recker, 9, has tagged along to plenty of his older brother's sporting events. But for the rising second grader, he's always been the one brought along to watch.
Luke and his family, along with dozens of other families with special-needs children, congregated inside the Hall of Fame Club at PNC Park on Wednesday afternoon to learn that children like Luke are no longer going to be limited to the stands.
On Wednesday, Pirates Charities, the philanthropic arm of the Pirates organization, formally pledged a $200,000 contribution to the Miracle League of Southwestern Pennsylvania, an organization that is beginning the construction of a Miracle League baseball field designed for children with special needs.
"It's just going to finally give him the chance to be quote-unquote normal," said Holly Recker, Luke's mother. "Now he'll have the opportunity to at least try it. It's an opportunity to give these kids a chance to be like every other kid."
The total cost of the Miracle Field will be approximately $300,000, though MLSWPA is hoping to raise close to $500,000 so that a reserve fund will be available when improvements and renovations are needed down the road.
"We approached the Pirates, and we've had a great relationship ever since," MLSWPA president Mike Sherry said at Wednesday's gathering. "This is truly going to ensure that this ballpark is built."
Of the $200,000 that Pirates Charities has pledged, $50,000 will be donated by Pirates second baseman Freddy Sanchez and his wife, Alissa.
"We were looking for something to get involved with in the community, something that would be close by that we can get our hands on," Sanchez said. "It was a no-brainer. It was something that we felt good about, something that we had to do, something that we wanted to do."
Sanchez said he sees a little bit of himself in the children who attended Wednesday's press conference because he, too, was physically limited when he was younger. Born with a club foot, Sanchez was fortunate to undergo successful surgery as a child that has allowed him to pursue a career in athletics.
Still, Sanchez feels like he can relate.
"It's something that hits at my heart," he said. "There should be nothing to hold these kids down. Whether you're in a wheelchair, whether you're challenged, they're going to be able to go out and live their dream."
The Miracle League field will be located in Cranberry, a northern suburb of Pittsburgh. It is scheduled to host its first game in May 2009, with the preliminary asphalt base being put down at some point in the next 60 days.
The MLSWPA was formed in 2007 and is a part of the umbrella Miracle League foundation, which began in Georgia in 2000. Currently, the nearest Miracle League field is located in Blair Co., Pa., which is a little more than two hours east of Pittsburgh.
Now the dream of having a place where no child is excluded because of physical limitations in the Pittsburgh area finally is being realized.
"This project is going to allow thousands of kids in Pittsburgh the opportunity to play baseball, something that many of us take for granted," Pirates president Bob Nutting said. "Nowhere is there going to be more pride or more passion than with these kids on the Miracle Field next spring. It's a lesson we can all learn from."
As another means to raise money for this project, FoxSports Pittsburgh will hold a Pirates Charities Auction on July 26. The auction will take place during the Pirates' game against the Padres, and fans will have the opportunity to bid on a variety of experiences, including private batting practice and coaching sessions with players and coaches, as well as a trip to Spring Training next season.
All proceeds will be given to the MLSWPA.
Before everyone left Wednesday's press conference, Sherry passed out pieces of the synthetic surface that the field will be made of. His hope? That everyone in attendance would keep the small rectangular memento as a reminder of the impact this field will have for children in the area.
"I think I'm going to put it in the locker room," Sanchez said. "If I'm having what I think is a bad day or don't do what I feel like I should on the field, I can come look at this and know that there are more important things going on."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.