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Pirates manager Hurdle to address Franklin Regional baccalaureate service

| Wednesday, June 4, 2014, 10:31 p.m.

Children's Institute of Pittsburgh CEO David Miles is guessing that a lot more people in Pittsburgh have heard of Prader-Willi syndrome since Clint Hurdle became manager of the Pirates.

They may not know exactly what it is, but they've likely seen the public service spots and “Wins for Kids” messages during Pirates broadcasts. They may even know that Hurdle's daughter, Maddie, has Prader-Willi, a genetic disorder affecting about one in 12,000 people. The Wins for Kids program — which Hurdle and wife Karla began with Root Sports in 2011 to help children in the Prader-Willi program at the Children's Institute — raised $80,000 in 2013.

Hurdle's civic involvement extends beyond what he does for Prader-Willi patients. It's one reason the Major League Baseball Players Association will present him with the Brooks Robinson Community Service Award at the 15th annual Legends for Youth Dinner in November in New York City.

The award acknowledges a current or former major leaguer who “exemplifies the unselfish and humble attitude of Brooks Robinson, bettering the lives of the youth in his community.”

On Thursday, Hurdle is likely to emphasize the strength of community when he delivers a motivational message during Franklin Regional Senior High School's baccalaureate ceremony. He accepted the invitation to speak after the mass stabbing on April 9 at the school, in which 20 students and a security guard were wounded.

“We should be there when anybody has a challenge, and we have been,” Hurdle said of the Pirates organization. “That servant's heart permeates the city of Pittsburgh. My family feels it.

“We're going through some different things right now with Maddie, where she's been spending some time at the Children's Institute. I've got people there who want to take care of her because it's Maddie, not because it's Clint Hurdle's daughter.

“We want to take care of these kids because they're kids, and help them and the families that support them — and the high school as well.”

Unapologetic faith

That Hurdle would make time on the Pirates' only off-day during a 26-game coast-to-coast stretch to speak at Franklin Regional does not surprise the Rev. Brennan Gaertner, pastor at Ascension Lutheran Church in Ross.

Before he met Hurdle, Gaertner often saw the Pirates manager at a Starbucks but was hesitant to say hello.

That changed one day — and his hello turned into a conversation with the skipper. Gaertner mentioned his brother Shawn, an account representative for the Pirates for 15 years who died of melanoma in 2003. Hurdle knew that the team holds a memorial softball tournament in Shawn's name.

The conversation soon turned to faith.

“He's very bold in the way he describes his faith in Jesus,” Gaertner said. “Very unapologetic. Folks who talk about faith aren't always inviting; sometimes they're judgmental. There's nothing judgmental about Clint Hurdle. He's a gentle giant and loves people.

“... You could just tell he really felt like he was in Pittsburgh for more than coaching. He wants to know what's going on in the community and connect to people.”

In February, Hurdle spoke at the fifth annual Night of Inspiration with the White Fields Foundation, an organization Gaertner founded that in part works to pair Christian male mentors with youths. The theme of the night was locking arms and walking together as a team.

“He inspired everybody,” Gaertner said. “He gave a charge to everybody to do a daily random act of kindness. Guys are still talking about it.”

No-fanfare acts

Hurdle's impact on the Children's Institute and Prader-Willi patients is immeasurable, Miles said.

He donated time to the Squirrel Hill facility long before the Pirates named him manager in 2010.

“When the Colorado Rockies used to come into town, if Clint had a couple hours that were open, he'd call and say, ‘Can I come over to visit the patients?' ” Miles recalled. “And he would just come in — no fanfare, no nothing.”

Shortly after the Pirates returned to Pittsburgh from spring training during Hurdle's first season, Dr. Gregory Cherpas, a pediatric psychiatrist who is medical director for the Prader-Willi unit, invited the skipper to a briefing he would give to CEOs and foundation directors.

After discussing Prader-Willi treatments and protocols, Miles said, Cherpas asked his friend if he would like to add anything.

“Clint went into this soul-searching presentation about what it's like to be the parent of a child with a disability, or a special-needs parent,” Miles said. “Everybody in the room was crying by the time he was done. He talked about he and Karla, and all their trials and tribulations, and the joys of working with Maddie.

“It's those kinds of things that I really like about Clint. He's just such a down-to-earth person,” Miles said.

Selflessness rarely seen

If Hurdle is in town, Miles said, he plays a round of golf at the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association chapter's annual fundraiser. Hurdle is the association's national spokesman.

Every year, the Pirates Caravan makes a stop at the Children's Institute so patients and staffers can meet players and coaches.

During a recent homestand, Hurdle was on the field early on a Sunday morning with the sold-out Pitch for Hope women's baseball clinic to benefit the fourth annual Glimmer of Hope. The Pittsburgh organization funds the country's only study of breast cancer in women younger than 40. His mother is a breast cancer survivor.

“It's just really cool, and there's a lot of cancer survivors out there, which makes it significant in a lot of different ways,” Hurdle said afterward. “There's a lady who's fought it five times and was out here talking to me. It just takes your breath away.

“This was a big day for her, a huge day for her after what she's been through. So to see their passion for life as well as the Buccos, you combine the two and it's pretty cool.”

Season-long, Hurdle attends meet-and-greets and charitable fundraisers. He is scheduled to host the second Faith Night this month at the ballpark.

“He's one of those special people that seems like he can never give enough,” Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said. “His energy, his passion, his selflessness is like something I very rarely see in people, and we've grown and gotten better because of that.”

Karen Price is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7980 or

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