PITTSBURGH -- A handful of Pirates kicked off the club's annual CARE-a-van on Wednesday by going back to their roots in Altoona, home of the Bucs' Double-A club, and getting in touch with their inner child at Highmark SportsWorks at the Carnegie Science Center.Jameson Taillon, Max Moroff, Nick Kingham, Jacob
PITTSBURGH -- A handful of Pirates kicked off the club's annual CARE-a-van on Wednesday by going back to their roots in Altoona, home of the Bucs' Double-A club, and getting in touch with their inner child at Highmark SportsWorks at the Carnegie Science Center.
Jameson Taillon, Max Moroff, Nick Kingham, Jacob Stallings, hitting coach Jeff Branson and bullpen catcher Jordan Comadena made up one of three groups that went out into the greater Pittsburgh community on Wednesday, the first of three days on the CARE-a-van tour leading up to PiratesFest at PNC Park on Saturday.
"We're going to the Pirates' markets, areas that I don't think I would be able to go to -- or go back to, like Altoona," Taillon said. "Getting to meet a lot of fans, getting to shake some hands and meet people that otherwise we wouldn't have the opportunity to."
This year's CARE-a-van includes 19 events in nine cities, from Erie and Altoona to Youngstown, Ohio, and Wheeling, W.Va. It began Wednesday, when Taillon, Moroff, Kingham, Stallings, Branson and Comadena took a bus to the James E. Vandt VA Medical Center for a visit with the Altoona Curve.
On their way back into town, the group of Pirates made a pit stop at the University of Pittsburgh campus, where they handed out a Chick-fil-A lunch to students. Then came the night's main event, the Lending Hearts holiday party at Highmark SportsWorks. Take one look around the massive room and you might have seen Taillon rock-climbing, Moroff facing off against a group of kids at air hockey, Kingham playing a giant game of "Operation" or Stallings signing autographs.
The Pirates gave more than their time to Lending Hearts. During the party, team president Frank Coonelly presented Lending Hearts with a $71,000 check on behalf of Pirates Charities and AT&T SportsNet.
Pirates broadcaster Greg Brown, hosting the event, also called on the Pirate Parrot to help celebrate the birthday of Madeline "Mina" DeLuca, who turned 5 Wednesday and remains in remission after four consecutive rounds of chemotherapy in late 2014/early 2015. Mina's mother, Kristin DeLuca, said they were planning a separate yoga party, an activity Mina came to love through her involvement with Lending Hearts' programs.
Lending Hearts is a local nonprofit organization that facilitates educational and recreational activities and programs for children, teens and families affected by cancer. It's a particularly meaningful organization for Taillon, who overcame testicular cancer earlier this year. So there he was on Wednesday night, riding a zipline with Kingham and a group of children.
"I'm like a little kid here, trying out all the games, making sure I can still do some rock climbing and bungee jumping and stuff," Taillon said. "Lending Hearts is all local in Pittsburgh, which is great, so you get to see the kids and families affected by it, get to spend time with them, and to be able to come out to events like this is really cool."
Elsewhere on the CARE-a-van on Wednesday, one group of Pirates -- including Felipe Rivero, Steven Brault, Edgar Santana and Clay Holmes -- attended the Highmark Caring Place Family Christmas Party at Fun-Fore-All in Cranberry Township. Another group of players -- including Josh Bell, Tyler Glasnow, A.J. Schugel and Chris Bostick -- packed food at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and served dinner with the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Morgantown, W.Va.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.