McCutchen, Walker, other Pirates lure kids to free baseball clinic
Devontae Hampton's smile stretched from ear-to-ear.
The 9-year-old McKeesport boy had just caught a fly ball from Andrew McCutchen, was shown how to throw a fastball by Joel Hanrahan and fielded ground balls from Neil Walker.
There were about 250 more children from at least 15 local communities who had that same smile.
The Major League Baseball Players Association: Players Trust charitable organization, in partnership with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities Pittsburgh — assisted by the Boys and Girls Club and the McKeesport Youth Baseball Organization — conducted a free youth coaching clinic Tuesday at Helen Richey Field. A record number of kids attended.
“What an absolute incredible turn out,” said Bobby McCaffrey, Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation assistant director of program operations. “We do this clinic all around the country and this was, by far, the most kids we ever had. It was absolutely amazing.”
Boys and girls ages 8 to 15 from McKeesport, White Oak, Glassport, Liberty Boro, Port Vue, Elizabeth, Mt. Vernon, Turtle Creek, Chalfant, East Pittsburgh, Duquesne, Wilkinsburg, Braddock, Clairton, Homewood, North Huntingdon and Irwin, among others, took part in the three-hour instructional clinic.
“If this was a weekend, we would have gotten even more,” RBI Pittsburgh program coordinator Charles Saunders said. “These kids are getting some instruction from the best around and can meet their heroes. That carries a lot of weight with every person here.”
Hanrahan, McCutchen and Walker along with teammates James McDonald and Josh Harrison, helped the instructor during the final 30 minutes of the clinic before taking part in a question and answer session at Blue Top Pavilion across the street from Renziehausen Park.
The kids received autographs, a T-shirt and a catered lunch — all at no cost.
“This is a great experience,” Hanrahan said. “Obviously, everybody here knows McCutchen, and even at the pitching station, they were like, ‘Where's McCutchen, where's McCutchen?' It's nice to be able to help out inner-city kids who wouldn't normally get this opportunity.”
The clinic was months in the making. It started when RBI took a dozen girls to Arizona for the Junior Classic last year.
“They like what we do in Pittsburgh, so they wanted to bring it here,” Saunders said.
After contemplating areas such as Homewood, Wilkinsburg, the Hill District and Northview Heights, the Ripken Foundation, which conducts nearly a dozen clinics in major league cities during the summer, chose McKeesport in large part because of the facilities.
“Anytime you get outsiders into town for something as great and wonderful as this, it is truly something special,” McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko said. “I am very impressed with the turnout and with what these volunteers did here.”
Jim Barry, who runs MYBO and a board member of RBI Pittsburgh, was integral in getting the clinic to come to McKeesport.
“We get hung up of all the negative things in the city, and there is so much good that goes on that you don't hear about,” Barry said. “I want these kids to know that there is something else out there.”
The Ripken Foundation contacted Barry during the winter. Barry contacted Penn State Greater Allegheny baseball coach Jim Chester for help.
Chester called on some coaching buddies — East Allegheny's Ryan Encapera, South Allegheny's Mark Suckfiel and PSGA assistant coach Joe Ranalli, to name a few.
“This had to be one of the best baseball days in the city's history,” Chester said. “In my short baseball career, this goes up near the top of the best things I've been involved with. These kids definitely learned something, but the driving force was that Andrew McCutchen, Joel Hanrahan and all these guys were here.”
McCaffrey admitted that getting a star player such as McCutchen in other cities to volunteer for these clinics are difficult.
“Those guys want to come out and get in the community, and that is just phenomenal,” McCaffrey said. “You also have to give credit to Jim Barry, Ron Bishop and Charles Saunders for all their hard work and dedication to get this thing here. We strive to have 150 kids, and for this thing to touch 250, it was amazing.”
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.