An informal pickup game of baseball is a summer tradition and a favorite pastime for millions of American kids.
But for many others, and for some adults, that summer pleasure is only a dream.
Representatives of the Pittsburgh Pirates, including Bucs broadcaster Greg Brown, came to White Township on Tuesday to help make that dream come true.
Pirates Charities, the philanthropic arm of the Pittsburgh Pirates, has contributed $150,000 and is partnering with the YMCA of Indiana County to build a Miracle League Baseball Field, a baseball diamond constructed specifically for children and adults with special needs.
The official announcement was made Tuesday morning at a press conference on the patio of the YMCA, directly adjacent to the site of the proposed field, which will be called the Pirates Charities Miracle League Field-Indiana County.
While the proposed new field is the first of its kind in Indiana County, it is the sixth such field that Pirates Charities has played a vital role in constructing.
Miracle League ball fields feature an accessible, specially designed rubber turf to make it easy for children in wheelchairs or on crutches to safely move about. “Buddies” also assist the Miracle League players. Buddies often are mainstream children who play baseball or are members of church groups, Scouts and other volunteer organizations.
The new field is expected to be ready for play in 2014 or 2015.
Spearheading the local drive to bring a Miracle Field to Indiana County are Nancy Sherry-Helsel and Jerry Gillette.
“Back five years ago when the (Miracle League) field opened in Cranberry, I knew I wanted to open one in Indiana,” Sherry-Helsel said.
Her son, Indiana native Mike Sherry, was instrumental in the construction of the Miracle Field in Cranberry Township, the first of its kind in western Pennsylvania, and the Pirates Charities led the way in providing the funding for the site.
Sherry introduced his daughter, Jordan, a special-needs child, who was the driving force behind his efforts to construct the Cranberry Township field.
“Baseball is something everyone takes for granted,” Gillette said. “But there are many who do not get to experience the joy of that great game in their lifetime. Now, they will.”
He said that thanks to the allegiance of the YMCA, Sherry-Helsel and the Pirates foundation, “this dream will come true.”
Gillette listed the organizations and individuals who have already contributed to the $500,000 fundraiser, which is currently at about the halfway point.
Both Sherry-Helsel and Gillette stressed that contributions are still being accepted.
“This is one of the reasons I am so proud to be a member of the Pirates family,” said Bob Nutting, chairman of the board and principal owner of the Pirates. “This field will have a positive impact in the community. There is no program that has a deeper and more meaningful impact to the community and the lives of the children in the area.”
Nutting said he was “glad for the opportunity to partner with the YMCA for a little piece of a miracle that can change people’s lives.”
Indiana County Commissioner Rodney Ruddock said, “This is a very special moment for a very special group.”
Ruddock, a former baseball star in his own right, added, “Some have never experienced the thrill of crossing home plate. … Now they will have that opportunity. … We are truly Indiana proud.”
Ruddock pointed out that in the history of Indiana County he has never witnessed as many Pittsburgh Pirates celebrities in attendance, referring to Nutting and Frank Coonelly, president of the Pirates since September 2007, and Patrick Crumb, the president of Root Sports, which televises Pirates games.
In emotionally charged comments, Indiana County Commissioner David Frick said, “I never realized the everyday activities (that we take for granted) were out of reach for others. I commend everyone involved for their efforts. … If the kid can’t go to the field, we will bring the field to the kids,” he said.
Eric Neal, executive director of the YMCA, also thanked all involved in making the field a reality.
The Miracle League Concept was developed in Conyers, Ga., in 2000 and today there are 250 Miracle League organizations in the U.S., Canada and Australia.
PHOTO: The Pittsburgh Pirates Parrot visited with Rebecca Hildebrand, 7, at the YMCA of Indiana County, where plans were announced Tuesday for a Miracle League Field where children and adults with special needs can play baseball. Rebecca is the daughter of Chip and Cathy, of Penn Run. (JAMIE EMPFIELD/Gazette)