The Special Olympics of Pennsylvania Summer Games, held at Penn State University each year, bring more than 2,000 athletes and 750 coaches from all across the state together for three days of competition in aquatics, basketball, bowling, gymnastics, softball, tennis and other sports.
The 45th Special Olympics of Pennsylvania Summer Games began on June 5, but before that law enforcement officials carried the "Flame of Hope" from Pittsburgh to State College. The torch was lit during a special ceremony that took place at PNC Park on June 2, and then it began its 150-mile journey to the competition at Penn State.
Pirates President Frank Coonelly and former Pirates relief ace Kent Tekulve addressed the audience that was on hand on the North Shore that day, and several Special Olympics athletes happily walked the torch around the bases. Then law enforcement officers began their trek to State College -- on foot -- by running around the warning track and exiting the ballpark via the garage tunnel with the Pirate Parrot on his motorcycle and a pair of motorcycle officers leading the way.
Potholes, hot weather and rain showers are among the obstacles the officers faced on the way to Penn State, but they say none of that mattered.
"We're there for the athletes," Pittsburgh Police Commander Scott Schubert told Pirates flagship radio station 93.7 The Fan. "To see all the athletes and their families in the stands when we come in with the torch and light the cauldron, it's an experience that you'll never forget."
Throughout the 2014 season, Pirates and Pirates Charities Chairman Bob Nutting is hosting VIP (Very Important Pirate) Parties for local non-profit organizations at PNC Park. On May 10, for instance, he hosted a group from the Erie (PA) location of the Highmark Caring Place. The group visited PNC Park as special guests of Nutting that night and watched the game against the St. Louis Cardinals from the Pirates Charities Suite.
Nutting hosts one VIP Party each month during the season with the goal of providing deserving children with a night at the ballpark in true VIP-style -- complete with a private meet-and-greet with Pirates players and coaches, a Pirates replica jersey, and a goodie bag. There is also an opportunity to participate in a pre-game ceremony and later enjoy great ballpark menu items provided by Levy Restaurants through their Levy Cares program.
The Children's Institute of Pittsburgh, Miracle League of the South Hills, Beverly's Birthdays, and Butterfly Bandits will also enjoy VIP Parties at PNC Park this year.
The Pirates hosted the second annual Baseball Tomorrow Fund Field Maintenance Clinic on May 3. The educational clinic for local youth baseball and softball organizations was led by members of the Pirates' grounds crew -- which is headed by Manny Lopez -- and it featured information on field preparation and maintenance. More than 40 coaches and league officials from the Pittsburgh area attended the morning session at PNC Park.
The Baseball Tomorrow Fund is a joint initiative between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association that awards grants to organizations that operate youth baseball and softball programs and facilities. Its mission is to promote and enhance participation in youth baseball and softball throughout the world.
In connection with the May 3 event, two local organizations -- the North Shaler Athletic Association and Dormont Baseball -- received $5,000 grants from the Baseball Tomorrow Fund to help with field maintenance and repairs.