Pirates celebrate Miracle League athletes in annual event

February 23rd, 2024

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Brandon Hastings is a pitcher. And he’s got an arm.

When playing catch at the Miracle League of Manasota field in Sarasota, Fla., Hastings was asked by one of the buddies who was playing catch with him if he could throw the ball over the wall.

The answer is yes, he can, and did.

Hastings was one of 40-plus athletes who took part in the 2024 Miracle League Fantasy Camp on Thursday night, and they were joined by over 50 buddies to help make the day possible. That included 15 Pirates players -- which ranged from big leaguers like David Bednar, Colin Holderman and JT Brubaker, to prospects like Termarr Johnson, Anthony Solometo and Bubba Chandler -- as well as six coaches.

The Pirates’ relationship with this Miracle League has been ongoing for 11 years, and with the exception of a missed year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is an annual tradition to take part in an event that celebrates all the athletes’ mutual love of the game.

“This is one of our most enjoyable events of the year,” said Chris Cushman, the executive director of the Miracle League. “It’s something that we look forward to every year, and the Pirates and Pirates Charities have just been fantastic for us over the years.”

Postgame, Hastings congregated with some of his friends in the parking lot, partially to reflect on their favorite parts of the day.

“Having the Pirates take time out of their day to come, to be with us for Miracle League," said Leah Barger, the athlete representative on the Miracle League board.

“My favorite part is running,” said Matthew Priest, who got to hear Pirates broadcaster Greg Brown call his trip around the bases for a home run.

Matt Griffin loved getting to play with his buddy. And Becky Jaffer?

“Just being out and knowing that baseball is around the corner,” Jaffer said excitedly.

Athletes came together to take part in four activities: Running the bases, hitting off of a tee, playing catch and then throwing into the net with the pitchers.

Pirates Charities helped build the soft, artificial turf field, which was the first lively ballpark and audience these players have played on this season.

“This is one of the days I really, personally, look forward to,” Pirates chairman Bob Nutting said. “... Bringing [the field] alive once a year, bringing the players in, bringing the coaches in, having them interact with the Miracle League kids, you can see the impact and the smiles. Not only on the kids, who really appreciate it, but it’s really grounding and humbling for everyone else on the field, particularly the Major League players. We are really proud and pleased to participate.”

It also allowed the athletes and families to forge relationships. The group in the parking lot remembered how excited Jack Suwinski was last year greeting players as they crossed home plate, and how a year later, they are still rooting for him.

“We had some prospects out there,” Suwinski, who coached hitting this year, said. “They all love it. They’re all really good. You can tell they practice a lot and their coaches work with them, helping us at the tee station, telling us what everyone’s specialty is. It was pretty cool.”

Before the festivities began, Nutting read a poem that he keeps on his phone, which celebrates differently-abled children and what they can accomplish. Like in the pros, those talents were seen on the field Thursday.

“It really is an opportunity for me to reflect that everybody has different skills,” Nutting said. “Everybody has different skill sets, and to be able to celebrate what they can do, because we really do hear all the time what they can’t do, and hear all the time you can’t come out and play. You can’t use this. Whatever the issue is. To have a spot that’s built for them and truly inclusive, to say, ‘Sure, come on out. This is for you. Let’s go have a good time.’”

And it is safe to say that a good time was had by all.

“The Pirates coming out and playing with us kids, it makes the day go by faster,” Jaffer said.

“My favorite part is getting involved and having a place for us to feel comfortable and in our comfort zone, and getting to see our friends each week,” Barger said.