Wiffle ball tourney unites police, community
Back on June 23, the Pirates teamed up with the City of Pittsburgh's Department of Public Safety to conduct a youth wiffle ball tournament at Highmark Stadium. Pirates pitcher Steven Brault joined team president Frank Coonelly for the event. Pirates play-by-play announcer Greg Brown was also on hand to emcee and call some of the action.
Each of the six Pittsburgh police zones fielded a squad of kids that ranged in age from eight to 12. The youngsters teamed with police officers from their zones to compete in a fun and interactive environment. The police officers served as coaches and pitchers for their teams as a way to engage with youth in the neighborhoods they patrol and promote positive police-community relations. City of Pittsburgh firefighters served as umpires.
The event took place on a wet morning, but nonetheless, it had precisely the effect everyone involved was hoping it would.
"Unfortunately, for too many kids today, their first experience with law enforcement is usually not a pleasant one," said John Tokarski, Outreach & Education Coordinator for the City of Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety. "Usually it's getting stopped on the streets for something they did wrong, or a visit to their homes or their schools by law enforcement because of something that may have happened there.
"The wiffle ball tournament was an opportunity to interact that was non-confrontational. It was a chance for the police to meet these kids as kids, and a way for the kids to meet the police as people.
"The officers went out into their communities to recreation centers, libraries, churches and schools and recruited kids to play for their zone's team. Despite the rain, the kids and the police came out with big smiles on their faces. They all had a great time. If people saw events like this more often they would have a better understanding of the impact the Pirates have with the city."
Brown, who remembers playing countless hours of wiffle ball with his brothers as a kid, thoroughly enjoyed being part of the June 23 event.
"It really wasn't a pretty day. It rained on and off, but that didn't dampen the spirts or the enthusiasm of any of the young participants," he said. "It was so cool to see the smiles on their faces when they made a play or got a hit. That really told you all you needed to know about the importance of wiffle ball. That's how young kids get introduced to the game of baseball. I think it was great.
"The day was capped off when Steven Brault came in and got involved. There were two games going on at once. He pitched and played on both fields. He helped announce with me, and the kids got a huge kick out of that. They absolutely loved it, and he did too.
"Without question, it was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding events that I've ever been involved with. It was a multi-faceted approach. Kids were introduced to wiffle ball, and it also humanized members of the police and fire departments. It was really a tremendous day."