During the Pittsburgh Pirates Charities All-Star Weekend held Aug. 16-18 in Upper St. Clair, 80 children and young adults from 10 different Miracle Leagues from across the country received the royal treatment.
Wearing replicas of the jerseys worn by Pittsburgh’s Major League Baseball franchise with their names emblazoned on the back, each special-needs athlete received a big-league introduction during the kickoff festivities, participated in a Pirates Fantasy Camp, battled in a home run derby, played in competitive and noncompetitive league all-star games and attended the Pirates game against the Chicago Cubs.
“They are all-stars,” Mike Magulick said. “We are probably treating them the way they should be treated all the time.”
Magulick will be able to help others with physical, mental and cognitive disorders, experience the joys of athletics through the partnership with the Pirates. The Bethel Park graduate is involved in the Miracle League Complex being constructed in Moon Township.
The baseball field is slated to be finished in October, but the hope is also to add football, soccer, golf and yoga,” Magulick said.
“Because we know some people don’t like baseball,” he said.
Magulick said the Pirates deserve a lot of credit for the success of the Miracle League facility. He said when his organization got started it was just a board “with a vision” until the Pirates became involved.
“You cannot underestimate how important they have been,” Magulick said. “Without them, there is no chance we would have this.”
According to Jackie Hunter, who has been involved with Pirates Charities for eight years, the Miracle League is one of the organization’s “signature” programs. The Pirates have been involved in the Miracle League of the South Hills since 2009 and have participated in 10 different Miracle League openings. And while Miracle League All-Star weekends have been held in the past, it was the first time Upper St. Clair Township hosted such an event.
“We are so excited to provide the opportunity to bring baseball to kids of all ages and abilities,” Hunter said. “You can see on the faces of the kids that it’s a special opportunity for them.”
It’s equally special for the players, coaches and front office staff that attended the festivities.
“They love doing this,” Hunter said. “It’s a great time for them to come out and have fun and be kids, too. The interaction that they get to have is really special.”
Pirates coaches Tom Prince, Kimera Bartee and Joe Cora attended the event along with players Clay Holmes, Steven Brault, Geoff Hartlieb and Trevor Williams. The players and coaches participated in the fantasy camp, providing instruction on pitching, batting, catching fly balls and running the bases.
Clad in a dark business suit, Pirates president Frank Coonelly also participated in the festivities, tossing baseballs to the athletes in the 90-degree heat. Coonelly emphasized the mission of the event: to celebrate the athletes and make sure that it was understood how they care about them and care about them playing the “great game” of baseball.
“There are so many wonderful things that we learn from our game and these kids are all stars,” he said. “They are great teammates and they care about their teammates. Most importantly, they have fun and bring joy through the great game of baseball.”
Coonelly said the organization’s own mission is to change lives through Pirates baseball and the Miracle League and their association with it accomplishes that goal.
“It is one of the great ways that we do change lives by baseball,” he said.
Ten years ago, Sean Casey did just that in Upper St. Clair.
Along with his wife, Mandi, he helped co-found Miracle League of the South Hills, which is located within Boyce-Mayview Park. The USC graduate and resident played Major League Baseball for the Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, Pirates, Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox. The former first baseman is now an MLB Network broadcaster.
Casey said the idea for the Miracle League has exceeded his “wildest dreams” and the all-star event was exactly the experience he expected for the players.
“All the things that continue to happen to this place just brings joy. It brings a smile,” he said. “I believe that life is about perspective and this place just brings perspective. It really does. It’s really cool to just be a part of it. It’s been wonderful and the all-star weekend was such a special experience. We wanted to make sure that the kids left here with a the memory of ‘wow, that was unbelievable.’”
The Miracle Field transformed for the weekend into an “amazing” replica of PNC Park. The outfield features a backdrop that includes the Roberto Clemente Bridge in left field and the panoramic view fans see at the stadium, which includes the Highmark Building and Point State Park fountain where the three rivers converge.
In addition to baseball activities, the event featured USC police, fire and emergency vehicles on display, airbrush tattoos, balloon artists, caricaturists, cornhole competition, a photo booth and speed pitch machine as well as fun and games at the Casey Clubhouse playground.
All-star games featured 80 Miracle League All-Stars from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Florida.
“The weekend was very important,” said Tim Gebhart, director of the Miracle League of South Hills, “because it brought together all the Miracle Leagues that the Pirates Charities support together and it really shows that we are one league. All kids and adults with disabilities have a chance to play around the nation and bringing them together to interact together, to be able to participate on teams together, I think is very important.”
And very personal added Magulick. He and his wife, Christina, have three children: Jack, 6; Luke, 4; and Max, eight weeks. Luke has a genetic condition and Magulick said the Miracle League is personal to everyone that attended the all-star weekend activities. He noted when player introductions were announced his was not the only teary-eye in the crowd.
“I was one of the many people crying,” he said. “A lot of these kids when they were born, people didn’t think they would be able to play baseball and they are an all-star today.”
With big league hopes and dreams they went to bat. Nick Berger, who boasted about his batting abilities, said he “wanted to hit the ball so hard and scare the coach.”
Though he admitted hockey is his favorite sport and that he “loved” the Pittsburgh Penguins, Noah Stine said he had a “lot of fun” participating in the fantasy camp and all-star weekend.
“It was awesome to hit and play here,” said the 16-year-old all-star.