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Pirates CARE-a-van goes bowling with local kids

ALL SMILES — Garrett Grishkevich, 5, of Weirton smiles with Pirates pitcher Steven Brault during Wednesday’s Pirates CARE-a-van event at Steel City Bowling Center. -- Andrew Grimm

WEIRTON — Wednesday night at the Steel Valley Bowling Center, local children got an experience they will not soon forget ­– bowling with big league baseball players.

The Pittsburgh Pirates Charities CARE-a-van made a stop in the Ohio Valley to bowl with the youngsters in an event put on with the Weirton Baseball Association for what was described by all parties as a night of fun.

“I knew we were coming to Weirton,” said Joel Gray, Pirates community outreach coordinator. “I know of the baseball association here because they are recipients of our community ticket program, as well as participants in our fields for kids grant. Right there we thought it was a perfect fit.

“They come to our neighborhood to the ballpark, so we thought since we were in their neighborhood it was perfect to hang out with them for a night of bowling.”

Pirates players hitting the lanes with local children were left-handed pitcher Steven Brault, infielder Jung Ho Kang, minor league pitcher Jesus Liranzo and minor league outfielder Jason Martin. Joining them were bullpen coach Euclides Rojas and bullpen catcher/coach Heberto Andrade. And of course, the Pirate Parrot was in attendance.

“(Events like Wednesday’s) are very important,” Gray said. “Being in the southwest region of (Pennsylvania), we are very connected to West Virginia and Ohio. West Virginia doesn’t really have a professional baseball team, so we feel like we are their team. Any way that we can join the whole entire MLB and engage kids in the game — that is our goal — is very important.

“It’s awesome to see the kids out here. I see them at the ballpark cheering on the guys. Being able to bring the guys among them here is awesome. When the kids come to the ballpark, they are the guys’ fans, but when we come here the guys are the kids’ fans. It’s a cool dynamic to see.”

Brault, according to Gray, has become a regular at making community appearances. He was quite the hit with the youngsters.

“This is Steven’s third-straight year doing CARE-a-van,” he said. “He is always willing to come and help us out. We’re happy to have Jung Ho with us and see how he engaged with the community. Our two young guys, Jesus Liranzo and Jason Martin, are great guys in the community and a part of this family. It’s awesome to watch.”

For his part, Brault was happy to see so many young faces come out and join the team.

“This is really fun,” Brault said. “We love being able to interact with people. These are the people that come out to our games and support us, so we like to support them when we can. Especially with things like this, where we are bowling and having fun, interacting and getting to know people. I think the whole idea is getting the next generation, the kids to the ballpark and get kids to love baseball. Doing things like this really does help get the kids fired up and feel like they know the players personally.

“It’s good (to be in the Ohio Valley). We’re trying to grow the brand and extend out. We want everyone to be Pirates fans.”

Helping organize the event from the Weirton Baseball Association was Phillip Glyptis, the organization’s special project coordinator.

“This is absolute game-changer for a lot of these kids in Weirton,” Glyptis said. “For them to be able to be with the players is a big deal for them. The Pirates have been great. They helped fix up one of our fields. We could not have done that without them.

“Without the organizations generosity giving back to the community, we would never be able to do that kind of stuff. To do this for a small community like Weirton, it means a lot. Young boys and girls dream for the stars, and these are the guys they look up to. For them to come down here and spend time with these kids, it means a lot to them.

“A few minutes ago, (Brault) was sitting with a couple of the young boys that are learning to pitch and was teaching them how to throw a curveball. For those boys, that is something they will never forget. That is what this is all about.”

(Grimm can be reached at agrimm@heraldstaronline.com)

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