Brilliant sunshine and temperatures already climbing toward the 90-degree mark greeted hundreds of people on Saturday morning as they arrived at the Upper St. Clair Community & Recreation Center in Boyce Mayview Park for a very special occasion -- the Opening Day festivities for the Pirates Charities Miracle League Field of the South Hills.
Despite the heat, the first thing former big league first baseman Sean Casey said when he surveyed the scene and addressed the crowd was, "This is just so cool."
Sean and his wife, Mandi, launched the effort to build the facility, a baseball complex for children with special needs, two years ago through their charitable foundation known as Casey's Clubhouse. Along the way, they received much-needed support from Pirates Charities -- the official philanthropic arm of the Pittsburgh Pirates -- and numerous other community partners and sponsors.
"Today is what everyone who has been a part of this wants everyone to see, and that's to have these kids take the field, be a part of a team and play this great game of baseball," the energetic Casey said as he got further into his remarks. "I met so many wonderful people on this two-year journey, and I'm so grateful for how many great big hearts there are in Pittsburgh, Upper St. Clair and the South Hills. For that, I say, 'Thank you so much.'"
The Pirates Charities Miracle League Field of the South Hills is the fifth such facility that Pirates Charities has supported. It features a custom-designed rubberized surface that is completely wheelchair accessible in order to allow children of all abilities to take the field. The facility also includes dugouts, restrooms and a flat surface that eliminates barriers for wheelchair-bound and visually impaired players -- plus a playground that the entire community can enjoy.
When his turn at the microphone came, Pirates chairman Bob Nutting said: "There is nothing that we do at Pirates Charities that is more meaningful to me or has a bigger impact on the communities and the families involved than the Miracle League programs. It really is special. It shows what a community can do when it's pulled together with a common vision. This field is a great testament to what the greater Pittsburgh community and Upper St. Clair has been able to do, and we're proud to be a part of it."
In addition to Pirates Charities, representatives from the Casey's Clubhouse "Starting Lineup" of donors -- who each gave $50,000 or more to help build the field -- were on hand to help mark the occasion on Saturday. Those donors included FedEx Ground, UPMC, UPMC Health Plan, Centimark, Highmark, A.C. Dellovade, Giant Eagle, Rohrich Lexus and the Casey Family Foundation.
Additional partners who helped to build the field -- including P.J. Dick, Trumbull and Lindy Paving -- Upper St. Clair Township and local dignitaries from throughout the South Hills -- were also in attendance along with Pirates Joel Hanrahan and Jason Grilli. The relievers were among those who took the field to play baseball with the children for the first time at the conclusion of the ceremonies and speeches.
A fund-raising campaign spearheaded by Casey raised more than $1 million for the construction of the field, its maintenance and funding to run the league.
"It's all about these kids, and it always has been," said Casey, who was born and raised in Upper St. Clair. "The people who helped to build this field will always be remembered. I appreciate it so much, and all these people here appreciate you stepping up and being a part of our community and helping us out."
Back in May 2009, Pirates Charities opened up the region's first Miracle League Field in Cranberry Township, Pa., in conjunction with the Miracle League of Southwestern Pennsylvania. In February of this year in Florida, the Pirates and the Baltimore Orioles jointly opened the Miracle League Field of Manasota in the Bradenton-Sarasota area.
Two more Miracle League Fields are currently under construction in the Pittsburgh region -- one in Wheeling, W.Va., and another in Murrysville, Pa.
"Today is a special day for not only this community and the folks that live in Upper St. Clair, but for all of Southwestern Pennsylvania," said Mike Sherry, who was the driving force behind the construction of the Cranberry Township complex. "It's always been the belief that there should not be just one Miracle League Field in a region of this size. There was absolutely a need for more.
"Statistics show it, but you don't even have to look at those. You can simply go into these communities and school districts and see that there are parents looking for social opportunities like the game of baseball to provide inclusiveness for children with special needs. The mission continues to put one of these in every community that needs one."
Jim Lachimia is a contributor to MLB.com.