Bucs host annual Curt Roberts Diversity Event for college students

April 17th, 2024

The Pirates hosted their annual Curt Roberts “Step Up to the Plate” Diversity Event on Tuesday in the Left Field Lounge at PNC Park. Named in honor of the team’s first African American player, the initiative provides students from Pittsburgh-area universities with the opportunity to interact with members of the Pirates organization and obtain valuable insight into the business of professional baseball. The program, which launched in 2017, is designed to be inclusive of persons of all racial, ethnic, religious, national origin, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability demographics.

Roberts made his big-league debut with Pittsburgh on April 13, 1954, against the Philadelphia Phillies at Forbes Field. At the time, the Pirates’ general manager was Branch Rickey, who previously was the GM of the Brooklyn Dodgers when Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Roberts appeared in 134 games for Pittsburgh in 1954 and was the team’s starting second baseman. He also spent parts of the ’55 and ’56 campaigns in a Pirates’ uniform before Bill Mazeroski took over that position.

“This event in Curt’s honor is a reflection of the Pirates’ commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and aims to inspire all of you as students to explore careers in baseball,” Pirates president Travis Williams said during his opening remarks. “This program has become a cornerstone of our outreach to students. Those who have participated have had a lot of success networking and establishing relationships with members of our organization, and even landing internships. This event really can lead to a future and a career path in sports.”

During his turn at the podium, Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said: “Achieving at the highest level in whatever sport or whatever kind of team we’re talking about requires being able to attract and recruit the best possible talent, and you can’t do that if you’re only looking in one pond. If you look at your favorite team, when that team was at its best it would be full of people who look different, people from different parts of the country and different parts of the world. People who have different skill sets, different world views, different likes and dislikes, and different ways of communicating.”

Among the activities at the Curt Roberts “Step Up to the Plate” Diversity Event was a panel discussion featuring six members of the Pirates’ front office who shared how they got into baseball, aspects of their current job in the organization and advice for those seeking to break into the business. In addition, the 45 students on hand -- from colleges such as Pitt, West Virginia, Robert Morris, Indiana (PA), Point Park and LaRoche -- participated in a strategy development exercise related to enhancing fan engagement, as well as networking sessions with team officials.

The group of students in attendance included individuals from countries such as France, Brazil, Nigeria, Japan and Taiwan in addition to the United States.

“That blew me away,” said Roberts’ son, Curt Roberts Jr., who has become a regular at the event.

Roberts Jr. served in U.S. Navy for 15 years before transitioning into a career in government. He’s currently an information technology professor at Bowie State University in Maryland. His message to the students on Tuesday was simple but important.

“Nobody is the same, but everyone brings something to the table,” Roberts Jr. said. “You’re all going to graduate with a skill set. It’s up to you to take that skill set and move it forward. That’s what’s going to determine what you’re made of and how successful you’re going to be.

“The people in the Pirates organization are here for you, so ask questions and listen to what they have to say because I guarantee they’re going to be listening to what you have to say. There are no bad questions. The only bad questions are the ones you don’t ask.”

The Curt Roberts “Step Up to the Plate” event is a product of the Pirates seeking to find more ways -- and better ways -- to be more diverse, more equitable and more inclusive in terms of their hiring practices and all aspects of the club’s operations. Actively seeking a more diverse group of candidates for job openings is part of that process.

“We have to be diverse in order to get the best combination of talent,” Cherington said. “We also need to provide an environment where everybody has the same opportunity to be great. And the culture needs to be such where you feel like you can be yourself and feel included.

“When that happens, and those three beautiful things come together -- you’re diverse and the opportunity for everyone to be their best and for everyone to feel included is there -- that’s a special place to be. I hope you all get to be part of an environment like that.”