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McKeesport resident has his day at the ball field

| Monday, June 9, 2014, 3:56 a.m.

Anyone who knows McKeesport resident Matt McWilliams knows he loves the Pittsburgh Pirates.

And when fellow parishioners at Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church wanted to say “thank you” for Matt's presence as a smiling face and helping hand at their annual Lenten fish fry, they turned to the team he loves most.

Matt, 31, was diagnosed with late-onset Tay-Sachs Disease in his youth and today is confined to a wheelchair as his gross and fine motor skills continue to deteriorate along with his speech. He lives with his parents, Russ and Pat McWilliams, and relies on their care and assistance with daily activities.

“Matt started seeing a neurologist at 6 or 7 years old,” Pat recalled. “Physically, he's still getting weaker, but his attitude stays strong.”

With Matt's continued involvement and enthusiasm in parish programs despite his physical challenges, the church's former pastor, the Rev. Stephen Kresak, and Laurie Gricar of its women's guild teamed up with parishioner Jim Barry, a city councilman and director of LaRosa Boys & Girls Club, to connect Matt with the Pirates.

That effort hit a home run on Sunday when Matt's family was invited to PNC Park for a tour, meet-and-greet and an accommodating suite to watch his favorite team take on the Milwaukee Brewers.

Regardless of the Pirates' loss, the McWilliams family had a blast.

“It was a great game, 1-0,” Pat said. “The Pirates had a great game, and they made it exciting for us. Matt was thrilled to be out on the field and to clap and boogie to the music in the suite as the game was going on.”

The family met Pirates manager Clint Hurdle and catcher Chris Stewart, who autographed a souvenir ball for Matt.

He received a backpack full of souvenirs to mark his big day.

The program was emotional for everyone involved.

“We were so blessed to share this day with Matt,” Pat said. “It's easy to get emotional, because you learn to appreciate the little things that come your way. This is more than we ever could have expected.”

Matt's uncle, Ron Lewicki of White Oak, joined them for the day at PNC Park. He attends games with Matt every season, and they speak on the phone after televised games.

“After every win, I call over and tell him, ‘Raise the Jolly Roger!'” Lewicki said. “He's always positive, and today is something special.”

Matt, like many other Pittsburghers and Pirates fans, has a brick on PNC Park grounds with his name engraved on it.

It was a gift from Lewicki during the stadium's construction.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

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