WHEELING - As the players at Saturday's Miracle League of the Ohio Valley fantasy baseball camp at the J.B. Chambers Youth Sports Complex in Elm Grove rotated to new skill stations, Tyler Joyce took the opportunity to ask Pittsburgh Pirates bench coach Jeff Bannister for an autograph.
Bannister immediately agreed - but only, he said, if Joyce, of Sheridan, Pa., would sign his jersey in return.
Joyce was one of 45 Miracle League athletes on hand for Saturday's event, which allowed the players to be coached by Pirates first baseman Ike Davis, shortstop Clint Barmes, pitchers Charlie Morton and Stolmy Pimentel, Bannister and third base coach Nick Leyva - as well as the Pirate Parrot and two of the world-famous racing pierogies. The major leaguers gave pointers on how to hit, catch and run the bases, while also providing encouragement - and learning a thing or two themselves.
PIRATES VISIT — Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Stolmy Pimentel signs his autograph on the back of the jersey of Anthony Sciullo of Cranberry, Pa,. during Saturday’s camp. - Scott McCloskey
"Being here, you don't think of striking out as such a big deal," said Davis, who recalled Friday's games against the San Diego Padres, during which he stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the third inning. "I struck out, and at that moment I felt like I did something really horrific, but in the grand scheme of things, it's not that big of a deal."
Davis guided the athletes through a fielding clinic, tossing ground balls and making sure the participants had proper form. Across the field, Pimentel had to use his athleticism to catch pop-ups from the athletes, while at home plate, Barmes demonstrated proper batting from.
All of the coaches and players were quick to celebrate the athletes' accomplishments, whether it be a hard hit, an athletic catch or a quick run around the bases.
For Pirates President Frank Coonelly, Miracle League events give him and the team a chance to provide an opportunity to promote the game of baseball, while also giving the athletes a chance to learn from the pros.
"For so long, they've been told 'this isn't a game for you,'" Coonelly said of the Miracle Leaguers. "You hope ... you can make their days and lives better, and, selfishly, every time I come to an event like this I learn and I grow. It's a two-way street."
Bob Nutting, chairman of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Pirates Charities, echoed Coonelly, and said the players are quick to note they enjoy the day as much as the Miracle League athletes do.
"Clint Barmes had a huge smile on his face to be able to come down here," Nutting said. "This is Ike Davis' first time at an event, and he was blown away. They can't believe the impact they have by having their name on the back of a Pirates uniform, and the impact they have on the kids."
Barmes was all smiles throughout the afternoon, as he not only had the chance to work with the Miracle League players, but also spend time with his son, Wyatt, 7. Barmes said it was a great experience for the duo, and he was happy and encouraged to see his son interact with the other children.
"This is the first one of these I've been a part of, and it's been awesome," Barmes said.
For Lorraine McCardle, president of the Miracle League of the Ohio Valley, the day served as a continuation of her mission to expose special needs children to activities they once thought would be impossible.
"We want every child that wants to do it to come and join us. If they don't like it, they don't have to do it again, but we want to give them that opportunity," she said. "I never want (her son) Austin to think there's something he can't do, and he doesn't. I want that same feeling for everyone here."
The 45 participants from across the Ohio Valley - as well as McMurray, South Hills and Cranberry, Pa. - got to experience that feeling Saturday, which made Davis particularly happy.
"As a kid, even if you don't like baseball, everyone at least gets a chance to take a whack at it and decide," he said. "Not being able to get that chance like most of these kids might not have had without having this field - it's a bad feeling. I'm so glad they got a chance to do that."