Pirates Play Ball clinic a big hit for local kids

June 13th, 2022

On Sunday morning, there was plenty of on-field activity at PNC Park as the Pirates hosted more than 600 youth baseball and softball players, ages 5-14, for a free instructional clinic. The event was part of Major League Baseball’s Play Ball Weekend, which is designed to celebrate the game and encourage youngsters of all skill levels to play it.

Play Ball clinics took place in more than 150 communities across the country over the weekend, including each Major League city. The Pirates partnered with local college and high school coaches and players to provide hands-on skill development during three different sessions that each involved 200 youngsters. There was a hitting station down the third-base line, a throwing station in left field, a baserunning and agility station in center field and a fielding station in right field.

“One more. One more,” a coach was heard encouraging a boy at the hitting station. “You’ve got to finish on a good one. There you go. Nice! You’re a natural.”

At the throwing station, another coach was impressed with the skills of one of the girls, saying: “Whoa, somebody’s got a heck of an arm. Look at that. And a lefty too!”

In addition to the on-field experience, participants had a chance to take a water break while hanging out in the Pirates’ dugout. Each youngster also received a Play Ball T-shirt and a whiffle ball and bat set. Parents got to watch their kids play on a big-league field from the outfield seats.

“We’re so excited to be part of Major League Baseball’s Play Ball Weekend,” said Jacque Skowvron, executive director of Pirates Charities and community engagement. “Some of these kids have never picked up a baseball or a bat before. That’s OK, we’re going to teach them how to play. Other kids here already have skills, and we’re going to help them refine those skills.

“Clinics like this introduce the sport of baseball and softball to a lot of our youth and show them how much fun the game is. Our mission is to grow the game and make sure that kids who want to play baseball and softball have the chance to do that right here in our community.”

It has long been the philosophy of the Pirates and Major League Baseball that if kids play baseball and softball, they will enjoy the experience and become lifelong fans of the game. That’s a goal of Play Ball events too.

“We’re trying to get as many kids involved as we can because baseball is a great game and a fun game,” said John Leonard, the Pirates’ manager of youth baseball and softball. “What we’re seeing today is a lot of kids with smiles on their faces. Hopefully, when they go home today, they’ll tell their parents how much fun they had.

“And if they don’t already play baseball, we want them to ask their parents to sign them up next time. And, if they already do play, we want them to keep playing and getting better for as long as they can. We want that to be the takeaway from today.”

One of the coaches who helped run Sunday’s Play Ball clinic was Ryan Encapera, head baseball coach at Penn State-Fayette, which is located about 50 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. On Sunday morning, it seemed like he was in his element, and that there was nothing else he would rather be doing.

“This is a fantastic experience,” Encapera said. “Anytime you get the opportunity to play baseball with kids or teach kids baseball it’s great. Being here with the Pirates and all these kids is wonderful. It’s a special event, especially with them being able to get on the field here at PNC Park, work on their skills and show off their talents.

“There are so many things that kids learn through baseball. It’s not only the physical skills but the culture of being part of a team and learning how to be a good sport and a good person. All those things come along with being part of the game of baseball.”

Pirates fan Tyler Beaty made the 140-mile trip from Buckhannon, W.Va, to Pittsburgh so his six-year-old son, Noah, could participate in the Play Ball clinic at PNC Park.

“When we got notified about this, we signed him up right away,” he said. “So, my son is out on the field and we’re having a fun day. I’ve seen him working on ground balls, and then he got to experience being in the Pirates’ dugout, and now he’s over there going through the hitting drills. I’m sure he’s going to talk about this day for a long time.”