Since 2009, Pirates Charities -- the official philanthropic arm of the Pittsburgh Pirates -- has played a vital role in the construction of five different Miracle League fields. The most recent was the J.B. Chambers Miracle League Field in Wheeling, WV, which held its opening ceremonies on the morning of May 18.
That day the Pirates and Pirates Charities joined Easter Seals, Ogden Newspapers and other Wheeling-based partners such as the J.B. Chambers Foundation, the City of Wheeling and the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley in unveiling the new facility, which faces Interstate 70 and the rolling hills of West Virginia. It will serve 15 surrounding counties in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania as part of the Miracle League of the Ohio Valley.
Miracle League fields are designed with a rubberized synthetic surface to allow children with special needs, including those who use wheelchairs and walkers, to move about safely while playing the game of baseball.
Ever since the region's first such field opened in Cranberry Township four years ago, Pirates and Pirates Charities Chairman Bob Nutting has made it clear that the program and the youngsters involved are a high priority for the ballclub. The fact that J.B. Chambers Miracle League Field is located in Wheeling -- where the Nutting family has a long history -- made this one even more special.
"Pirates Charities is involved in a number of different programs throughout the region that have a positive impact on families and communities, but there's nothing I enjoy being a part of more than the Miracle League," Nutting said. "I'm proud of the entire Miracle League program, but to be able to do it here in Wheeling is certainly special because this is where my family is from and we've been here for a long time.
"The most remarkable thing to me is that every single one of these Miracle League fields has had someone who just put their heart and soul into the program. In every community, there has to be that catalyst, that individual who helps pull the whole program together. Here in Wheeling it was Lorraine McCardle. She just relentlessly pushed and pushed and pushed to pull the community together. We've been fortunate to have that type of person with that type of commitment at every one of our Miracle League fields."
McCardle -- who has a son with special needs -- came up with the idea of building a Miracle League Field in Wheeling five years ago, and she had a look of satisfaction on her face during the dedication ceremonies and the inaugural game that followed on May 18.
"It took us five years, but we got our field built finally and it's going to be so awesome," said McCardle, who used to take her son to a similar field 80 miles away in Morgantown, WV. "Now our kids are getting a chance to participate just like everyone else. Always remember, they want to play just like you or me. We just make it adaptable for them. This is so wonderful. We needed it. We will only grow from here, and I so look forward to that.
"I thank the Pirates and Mr. Nutting and everyone. I would be here all day if I thanked each and every person that has helped us in one way or another. It was Mr. Nutting that called me at home. He's a Wheeling, West Virginia person just like me and when he offered to help us I was thrilled."
As part of her remarks from the podium at the opening ceremonies, Lorie Untch -- the president & CEO of Easter Seals of West Virginia -- said: "To Pirates Charities and the entire Pirates organization, look at you. You are providing resources beyond all expectations. We are amazed and eternally grateful for your support and guidance. To Bob Nutting, the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley, to Ogden Newspapers and the entire Nutting family -- you believed in us and in this project in a way that we will never forget. Your vision, support and contributions enable so many things in the Ohio Valley."
Last year, three Miracle League fields that Pirates Charities helped build were officially dedicated. In February, the Miracle League of Manasota Field presented by the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles opened in the Bradenton-Sarasota area in Florida. In May, Pirates Charities partnered with Casey's Clubhouse and former big-league first baseman Sean Casey to open the Miracle League Field of the South Hills in Upper St. Clair. Then in September, the Rotary Miracle Sports Complex of Murrysville -- which features the Bill Mazeroski Miracle League Field -- was unveiled.
In addition to making financial contributions to Miracle League fields, the Pirates and Pirates Charities also help by bringing partners to the table and lending expertise to the construction process, having been involved with several now. The team also helps to raise visibility for the projects as it did on May 18 when President Frank Coonelly, pitcher Mark Melancon, broadcasters Greg Brown and John Wehner, and the Pirate Parrot joined Nutting for the festivities.
"What a cool opportunity for these kids to come out and just have a blast and enjoy this new facility that was built for them," Melancon said. "It's so neat for the Pirates organization to give back to the community and give these kids an experience they probably wouldn't have if it wasn't for a field like this."
Melancon -- who made the trip to Wheeling that day with his wife Mary Catherine and the couple's one-year-old daughter Brooklyn -- also couldn't help but think about the parents of the special needs children.
"As a parent you want nothing more than for your kids to have a smile on their face and for them to enjoy the opportunities that other kids have, and special needs kids don't always get that same opportunity," he said. "So to have this field built for them and to see so many people helping out, I'm sure that's making this an incredible day for the parents too."
During a break in the morning activities on May 18, Nutting took a moment to reflect upon the way the program has evolved since 2009.
"We were all enthusiastic about the Miracle League concept, but seeing it in action that first day in Cranberry -- seeing the impact on the children, seeing the smiles on the faces of the families and the parents and the rest of the community -- that brought the whole program alive for me," he said. "That was when we began to look at, 'How can we expand this program?' It's really been fantastic and I hope we're going to be able to find additional ones so we can continue to help and continue to serve our communities."