New Castle News

December 12, 2013

Photos, Video, Story: Pittsburgh Pirates visit local students

David Burcham
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — The Pittsburgh Pirates adopted the entire fourth-grade class at George Washington Intermediate Elementary School yesterday.

It was a perfect match because it was obvious that the 220 students in the auditorium had clearly embraced the black and gold as their baseball team long ago.

Entering to a unified chant of “Let’s Go Bucs” and being serenaded at the end with a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” members of the 2013 Pirates Charities CARE-a-van probably couldn’t have felt more at home than had they been at PNC Park on July 4  — the birthday of former manager Chuck Tanner.

Jared Hughes, Bryan Morris and newcomer Jaff Decker joined bench coach Jeff Banister and broadcaster Steve Blass on their visit to New Castle. But perhaps the biggest cheers of the day were for the popular Pirate Parrot and his shenanigans.



REMEMBERING THE TANNERS

For Blass, it was his first time here since Tanner’s funeral in February 2011. “He was a special man,” Blass said of the New Castle native.

Hughes, a 6-7, 240-pound relief pitcher drafted by the Pirates in the fourth round in 2006, also was thinking about a Tanner. Chuck’s son, Bruce, was his pitching coach in the minor leagues.

“He’s from a family of great baseball minds,” Hughes said. “I still use a lot of the stuff that he taught me.”

Before arriving at the school, the entire CARE-a-van had lunch at Tanner’s Restaurant, buying meals for all the patrons in the place. New Castle native Terry Rodgers, the team’s coordinator of business communications, said players also handed out Pirates’ T-shirts.

During the assembly the students watched a 2013 team highlight video and took part in a Q&A session.

The 2013 Pirates CARE-a-van, which is presented by Highmark, will take part in more than 25 private community events over three days. Three buses consisting of players, coaches and broadcasters left PNC Park yesterday and will return on Friday. They will visit 15 cities.

The community tour is scheduled to culminate with the 2013 PirateFest, presented by T-Mobile, the Pirates-themed indoor baseball carnival at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which will take place on Saturday and Sunday.

The Pirates CARE-a-van supplied George Washington with various learning tools including a set of 25 seven-inch HD Nook tablets for the nine fourth-grade classrooms, 220 individual whiteboards, markers and highlighters.

“Those are things that we will use every day,” principal Joe Anderson said.







NEWEST PIRATE

Decker, an outfielder, was raised in Arizona and played his first Major League season in San Diego, but he looked right at home in the winter wonderland that was New Castle yesterday.

In years past being traded to Pittsburgh was not cause for celebration, but that has changed following the Pirates’ 94-win season.

“I’ve received a warm welcome and I’m happy to be with such a great organization,” said Decker, who has been a Pirate for only two weeks. Decker, 23, was traded by San Diego on Nov. 25. The former Arizona high school Player of the Year was the 42nd overall pick in the 2008 draft.

Decker’s first name “Jaff” is pronounced “Jeff” as he was named in honor of an uncle, who died during military service. Decker’s grandfather intended to name his son Jeff, but the hospital nurse recorded it “Jaff” and the spelling was passed on to his nephew.

“I’ll find out what my role is going to be in spring training,” said Decker, who can play all three outfield positions. “I’ve never been to PNC Park, but I’ve heard how great it is.”

Morris, another member of the Pirates’ dependable relief staff, said the bullpen will be ready to answer the call again next season when manager Clint Hurdle calls.

“Whether it’s three innings, two innings, one inning, or one out, it doesn’t matter,” Morris said.



WANT MORE

Blass said the Pirates’ breakthrough season was great for the area. He is optimistic the team can build on last year’s successes, but said the Bucs must fund a way to score more runs.

As for National League MVP Andrew McCutchen, Blass believes the best is yet to come. “He can improve his defense and steal more bases, but there’s more in the tank for him.”

Hughes made a point to tell his audience that working hard and getting good grades are important.

He also focused on the Pirates’ hopes for 2014. “We got a taste of winning and now we want more.”

When the Bucs finished their presentation, Anderson thanked them for their generosity. “We teach math, English and science here, but we also teach appreciation.

“We promise to use these gifts you’ve given us every day and to stay loyal to the Pirates.”

They have no choice. They’re in the family now.

(Email: d_burcham@ncnewsonline.com)