When Bob Nutting stepped to the microphone to address an audience in Indiana, Pa. -- about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh -- on Tuesday morning, he did so as the owner of the team with the best record in Major League Baseball. His Pirates compiled an outstanding 51-30 mark through 81 games -- with 81 more still to play -- and he was very proud that.
"But that's not why we're here today," he said.
Nutting was there to help announce that Pirates Charities -- the philanthropic arm of his ballclub -- is partnering with the Indiana County YMCA to build the first Miracle League baseball field in that area. The new facility will be located on the grounds of the YMCA, and Pirates Charities will contribute $150,000 toward construction costs.
When it opens sometime in 2014 or perhaps 2015, the Pirates Charities Miracle League Field of Indiana County -- as it will be known -- will serve as the home of the Miracle League of Indiana County and provide the opportunity for children and young adults with special needs to experience the joys of playing baseball in a league-based environment.
It will be the sixth Miracle League field that Pirates Charities has played an important role in constructing since 2009, and that's something Nutting is also very happy to say.
"One of the reasons I'm so proud to be part of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the game of baseball is that it does give us the ability to reach out and make a positive impact in the communities that support the team, and we're here today to pledge our support and really enthusiastically get behind this Miracle League field in Indiana," he said. "We, as Pirates Charities, touch nearly 3,000 organizations in the greater Pittsburgh region every year with tickets and outreach. But there's no program that I believe has a deeper and more meaningful impact than the Miracle League fields that we've been involved with."
Miracle League fields are specially designed with a rubberized synthetic surface that allows children and young adults with mental and or physical disabilities to move about safely.
Nancy Sherry-Helsel of the Miracle League of Indiana County is the mother of Mike Sherry, who was the driving force behind the first Miracle League field the Pirates were involved with in Cranberry Township, Pa. She's very proud of what her son accomplished several years ago and delighted that the concept is now coming to her hometown.
"When the Miracle League field opened in Cranberry five years ago, I knew I wanted to do the same thing here in Indiana," she told the crowd that included officials from the YMCA, community leaders, donors, and several special-needs children and their families. "So here we are five years later about to build a field in front of the YMCA that's going to benefit all these beautiful kids sitting up here today -- and many, many more. So this is truly an exciting day."
"Thank you to the YMCA, thank you to the leadership of Indiana County, and thank you to Mr. Nutting," Mike Sherry added. "He's certainly the thread that has pulled all these Miracle League fields together."
Likewise, Nutting has enormous respect for Mike Sherry, who he credits with introducing the Pirates to the Miracle League concept and inspiring them to become involved.
"When we first kicked off the Cranberry announcement, Mike handed out little pieces of the turf field and explained to all of us: 'This is not a piece of turf. It's a little piece of a miracle that will change people's lives.' I still have that piece of turf sitting on my desk as a reminder day after day of the miracles it opened all of us up to.
"Too often in the past these special-needs children have heard: 'You can't play here. There's a limitation. There's a problem.' Well, these fields address those special needs and really remind us all of the Miracles League's mission.
"Today you are all being an advocate and a friend for the families and children who need our support. Thank you so much for including us and Pirates Charities. I'm proud to be here with you, and I can't wait to see the kids take this field."
The Pirates Charities Miracle League Field of Indiana County will also serve special-needs children and young adults who reside in surroundings counties such as Armstrong, Cambria, Westmoreland and Jefferson who do not currently have access to a field that is handicap-accessible or speciallydesigned to accommodate devices like wheelchairs, crutches and body braces.
Jim Lachimia is a contributor to MLB.com.