Former Pirates play ball with disabled athletes
Miracles — in all shapes and sizes — came to the Bill Mazeroski Miracle League Field in Murrysville Community Park this weekend.
Some came from as far away as Wheeling, W.Va. Others were a little closer to their home fields in places like Indiana or Cranberry, and some came from homes near the field in Murrysville Community Park.
The three dozen adult special needs athletes who represented five Miracle Leagues had one thing in common: a love of baseball that rises higher than any of the disabilities that challenge them.
Saturday they shared that love and an ocean of smiles and high-fives with a group of Pittsburgh Pirates alumni who volunteered to coach them at the annual Miracle League Fantasy Camp at the Murrysville field.
Diane Piatt said her daughter — 42-year-old Amy Piatt, who plays on a Miracle League softball team — was eager to get on the road from their home in Cameron, W.Va., early Saturday morning for the two-hour ride to the field.
“She plays on a Miracle League softball team at home and she just loves it. She heard about this and she was really excited. She's a big Pittsburgh Pirates fan,” Piatt said as she sat in the bleachers with her daughter and daughter-in-law, watching Amy take batting practice with baseball announcer and former Pirates pitcher Kent Tekulve.
Retired Pirates Grant Jackson, Barry Jones and Ken Macha rounded out the crew of big leaguers who put the players, age 19 and older, through their paces — practicing throwing, fielding and running the bases on a sunny August morning.
The annual event is sponsored by Pirates Charities and the Baseball Fantasy Camp for Kids.
It has become one of Joe Knetzer's favorite parts of summer. Knetzer, a Western Pennsylvania native, drove to Murrysville from his home in Dalton, Ohio, to watch the camp Saturday.
Working in conjunction with Baseball Fantasy Camps, he helps sponsor the events in Pittsburgh and Bradenton, Fla., the Pirates' spring training home. He got involved with Baseball Fantasy Camps through friend Jeremy Flug, who attended Denison University with Knetzer and founded Baseball Fantasy Camps in 2008. A dozen major league teams, including the Pirates, now participate in Fantasy Camps around the country.
It didn't take much for Knetzer to sign on to the effort when the Pirates joined the move to provide daylong clinics for disabled children and adults.
“I'm a big Pittsburgher at heart, and the sheer joy of watching these people play baseball with their heroes and the joy I see in the players and alumni who come back year after year is what it's all about,” Knetzer said.
Curtis Shoup, 33, of Blairsville probably wouldn't take issue with Knetzer.
Shoup never got to play on a baseball team as a child. But he's making up for lost time these days.
His mother, Joyce Shoup, said her son was thrilled to learn about the Miracle League and considered his trip to Fantasy Camp on Saturday as his own miracle.
“It's awesome,” Shoup declared, after landing two pitches in the catcher's glove as former Pirates pitcher Grant Jackson cheered him on.