When Clint Hurdle throws his support behind something, he says he's "all in" -- and there's no doubt the Pirates' skipper is "all in" when it comes to the "Pitch for Hope" women's baseball clinic. That's because the event benefits A Glimmer of Hope, a Pittsburgh-based organization that has been funding breast cancer research since 1996.
Hurdle is passionate about the group and the cause because his mother, Louise, is a breast cancer survivor. It was on Valentine's Day in 1991 that Hurdle's father -- also named Clint -- asked him to come home because there was something he needed to tell him. When he arrived, his visibly shaken dad delivered the news that his mom had breast cancer.
"It was a sad day for our family. It was eye opening," the reigning National League Manager of the Year said. "I've shared before that it was the first time I ever saw my father cry, and I was 34 at the time. It really made you think about what life is all about.
"But here we are more than 20 years later and thankfully my mom is well. She still gets her annual check-up, she has her pink bat, and she's still raising the flag and waving that flag (for the cause).
"It's been a great victory for our family. So obviously we're sensitive to breast cancer research, providing hope, seeking a cure -- all of that. Anything we can do as a family to back it, we're all in."
At the fourth-annual "Pitch for Hope" women's baseball clinic -- which took place on the field at PNC Park on May 25 -- Hurdle and his coaching staff provided instruction on the fundamentals of hitting, fielding and pitching to more than 300 women. At the conclusion of the Sunday morning clinic, the women took part in a question-and-answer session with Pirates players and were treated to a catered brunch before taking in the 1:35 p.m. game against the Washington Nationals. The participants also received a commemorative t-shirt and had a chance to win autographed memorabilia via a raffle.
And the best part was that more than $60,000 was raised for A Glimmer of Hope, with the help of sponsors Highmark, Rue21, Coca-Cola and Allegheny Health Network (AHN). The money will be used to purchase tomosynthesis equipment -- which can diagnose breast cancer more precisely than traditional mammography -- for Allegheny General Hospital's Breast Care Center.
"This year's clinic sold out in a few weeks, so to say that it was a tremendous success is probably an understatement," said Diana Napper, who founded A Glimmer of Hope. "A lot of women there that day have experienced breast cancer, and to be on that beautiful field sort of takes them away from the actual disease, even if it's for a few hours.
"This has really turned into an event where our phone starts ringing as soon as the Pirates' schedule comes out. The women want to know, 'When is Pitch for Hope this year?' I think another reason this clinic has grown is that the participants love the fact that their investment benefits women in Western Pennsylvania."
Napper was impressed with Hurdle when she met him prior to the inaugural "Pitch for Hope" clinic in 2011, and she believes his influence has helped to make the event a success.
"He's a tremendous manager. Everyone knows that because of the success the team has had and the accolades he's received," she said. "Sometimes we understandably get caught up in the baseball aspect of it, but I believe the word that sums Clint up best is 'genuine.' He's a genuine human being who sees the big picture beyond baseball.
"He's somehow able to turn things positive for everybody -- for my organization, for the women that attend the clinic, for his players -- and that's a gift. To convey to another human being that there's hope is a gift, whether it's a baseball game where you're down by five runs or you've just been told you need five more rounds of chemo. That hope is a tremendous asset to Clint Hurdle."
This season there was a second event at PNC Park that benefitted A Glimmer of Hope -- Zumba Night on June 26. Prior to the 7:05 p.m. game against the New York Mets that day, instructors from Latin Rhythmz and the Oxford Athletic Club led approximately 200 women through a zumba workout on Federal Street.
"This was our first year to take on the zumba event, and for year one it was pretty good," Napper said. "But I believe we can turn Federal Street into a thousand people doing zumba next year.
"We have a really healthy and strong relationship with the Pirates. They help us get equipment here in Western Pennsylvania that we really need. It's a great partnership. We're bringing state-of-the-art equipment in through baseball clinics and zumba events -- all fun, positive events."